Axanar is attempting to boldly go where no Star Trek fan film has gone before. Over the course of three crowdfunding campaigns between Kickstarter and Indiegogo, they have raised about $1 million in funding for their Prelude to Axanar short film and Axanar full feature film. While their process has been ongoing for well over a year and production is set to begin on the feature film in February, CBS and Paramount, the owners of the official Star Trek TV and movie rights, have decided to file a lawsuit against Axanar Productions.
For many in the Trek community, this has been taken as a serious blow to the fan base. For decades, CBS and Paramount have allowed fan films to continue with little to no intrusion. Some of these productions have been incredibly popular like Star Trek: Continues which continues The Original Series story and format, leveraging new actors to portray Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the rest of the Enterprise crew. They currently have six episodes available on their website. Additionally, Star Trek: Renegades leveraged previous Trek actors in their original roles continuing on a more dark theme. The actors included in “Episode 1” are Walter Koenig (Chekov), Tim Russ (Tuvok), Robert Picardo (Dr. Lewis Zimmerman), and Manu Intiraymi (Icheb), among others. In fact, they’ve even boasted bigger Trek names for future episodes including Nichelle Nicoles (Uhura), Robert Beltran (Chakotay), Cirroc Lofton (Jake Sisko), Aron Eisenberg (Nog), and Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax). So, people want to know why Axanar is any different.
In their defense, they are using a new story with primarily new characters and have even taken Star Trek out of their title. They are using new ships and covering a time period not used in previous Trek. The characters they are leveraging were minor and not star or leading roles in the various TV series or movies. With that said, yes, they are using Klingons, Vulcans, and other Trek-specific species. But, what is the difference? This is something I suppose that Axanar Productions and CBS have to figure out together but many people think it’s the money involved. While arguing quality is something subjective, money is not. The amount of money raised by Axanar Productions is significantly higher than any previous Star Trek fan films and might even take the crow for fan films in general.
What do I think? Well, I think that CBS and Paramount have a vision for Star Trek with the upcoming Star Trek Beyond film and untitled TV web series set to hit in the next 13 months. CBS has a vision for these official productions and it’s possible that Axanar does not gel with these concepts or ideals and due to Axanar’s popularity, CBS wants to down-play their story. With that said, this is poorly timed by CBS. Star Trek is a complicated franchise, one that has a complex fan base that is willing to be very vocal about their passion of Trek. While the announcement of a new TV series was very exciting, many (not myself, by the way) were disappointed and down right angry that the series would only be available on the CBS All-Access paid subscription network (the pilot episode will air on CBS directly though). Things continued on the downward trend with the release of the first Star Trek Beyond trailer which many (again, not me) felt did not feel Trek. In fact, it prompted Simon Pegg to make statements about how the trailer didn’t truly depict the message and tone of the film and that he was unhappy with said trailer. Thirdly, Creation Entertainment tried to pull a fast one on passionate fans by price gouging the General Admission tickets for the 50th Anniversary Star Trek Las Vegas convention, causing a retraction and reversal of the price increase within 12 hours.
For CBS and Paramount to file suit now, after Axanar Productions already met with them as recently as August, seems confusing and in poor taste. With that said, since I am not a lawyer, CBS and Paramount may be completely in the right here if Axanar Productions is making a profit from their crowd funding or breaking other aspects of copyright law. For now, we’ll have to wait. Below is the official response from Alec Peters of Axanar Productions:
STATEMENT FROM ALEC PETERS, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF AXANAR
December 30, 2015
This morning, I was greeted with news that our production company, Axanar Productions and I, personally, am being sued by CBS Studios, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation for copyright infringement of Star Trek.
First of all, I was disappointed to learn about this through an article in an industry trade. For several years, I’ve worked with a number of people at CBS on Star Trek-related projects, and I would have hoped those personal relationships would have warranted a phone call in advance of the filing of a legal complaint. Nevertheless, I know I speak for everyone at Axanar Productions when I say it is our hope that this can be worked out in a fair and amicable manner.
Axanar is a fan film. Fan films – whether related to Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Power Rangers, Batman or any other franchise – are labors of love that keep fans engaged, entertained, and keep favorite characters alive in the hearts of fans. Like other current fan films, AXANAR entered production based on a very long history and relationship between fandom and studios. We’re not doing anything new here.
Like all fan films, AXANAR is a love letter to a beloved franchise. For nearly 50 years, Star Trek’s devotees have been creating new Star Trek stories to share with fellow fans. That’s all we’re trying to do here.
Since the original Star Trek TV series, when the letter writing campaign by fans got NBC to greenlight a third season of Star Trek, fan support has been critical to the success of the franchise. It is the Star Trek fans themselves who are most affected here, for by suing Axanar Productions to stop making our movie and collect so-called damages, CBS and Paramount are suing the very people who have enthusiastically maintained the universe created by Gene Roddenberry so many years ago.
The fact that many of the fans involved with Axanar Productions are also industry professionals speaks volumes to the influence of Star Trek in the entertainment industry. Not surprisingly, these fans want to give something back. We’re very proud that the work we’ve done to date looks so good. That is also a reflection of the devotion of Star Trek’s fans.
Like everything related to Axanar Productions, we take this matter very seriously and remain open to discussing solutions with all parties that can be mutually beneficial.
The official statement can be found on the official Axanar Facebook page here.
Many people have taken to the Internet with a hashtag supported by Axanar Productions #IStandWithAxanar which is paired with various images, profile photos, cover photos, etc. Additionally, Change.org is being leveraged for petitions supporting Axanar, like this one.
Others are concerned about their connection to the crowdfunding efforts. As contributors, our money is already gone. If production is shut down, what happens to our money? Additionally, are we liable for any damages as contributors? Again, while I’m not a lawyer, I do not think that CBS and Paramount are out to get any of the fans involved and are directly interested in Alec Peters and the rest of Axanar Productions. So, I don’t think we have to worry there. In the end, our money is likely lost but the show might go on. A couple years ago, a Kickstarter funded card game, Redshirts, was put on hold for about a year due to a copyright lawsuit with CBS. Eventually, an agreement was made and the game was altered and is now sitting in my basement. Perhaps an agreement can be made. For now, we’ll have to wait.