Paramount and CBS have set phasers to legal and are aiming at one of the most elaborate fan film productions in history.
Earlier this year, the team behind the unexpectedly excellent fan-made short film Prelude to Axanar decided to raise money to turn the concept into a feature-length fan film. The project would include A-list talent, some of which was professionally involved in official Star Trek work from days past.
Axanar means to serve as a prequel to the first episode of the original Star Trek television series and relate a story about Captain James Tiberius Kirk’s personal hero, Garth of Izar. The Axanar Productions website provides more detail:
…We met Garth in the third season TOS episode Whom Gods Destroy. Kirk called Garth the role model for all future Starfleet Officers. Garth charted more planets than any other Captain and was the hero of the Battle of Axanar, the story of which is required reading at the academy. This is that story.
Axanar tells the story of Garth and his crew during the Four Years War, the war with the Klingon Empire that almost tore the Federation apart. Garth’s victory at Axanar solidified the Federation and allowed it to become the entity we know in Kirk’s time.
It’s a compelling premise and a product of the obvious passion shared by all involved. It’s also remarkably ambitious; without intention to turn a profit, Axanar is still shooting for a level of quality traditionally restricted to major studio films. Even Star Trek cult legend George Takei took note, expressing his support on Facebook during the final days of the film’s Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. It quite easily surpassed its funding goals several times over.
It’s understandable, if disheartening, that the owners of the Star Trek license have begun to feel a bit threatened as the movie gains momentum. This is, after all, “the first non-CBS/Paramount produced Star Trek to look and feel like a true Star Trek movie,” according to Axanar’s own site. It is intended to be a “ground breaking independent film that proves the idea that a studio doesn’t need to spend millions of dollars to produce a feature quality production.”
In the the years since the 2010 inception of the Axanar project, CBS and Paramount have remained mostly silent on the matter. But even in August of this year, though Alex Peters expressed confidence that they would continue to evade legal pursuit, the license holders were already voicing their objections to “professional commercial ventures trading off our property rights and are considering further options to protect these rights.”
CBS and Paramount have filed for an injunction and damages based on direct, contributory, and vicarious copyright infringement. They cite the usage of “innumerable copyrighted elements of Star Trek, including its settings, characters, species, and themes.” The Axanar project may have bitten themselves with their publicly stated intent to “look and feel like a true Star trek movie” as stated in the complaint.
But Peters, a lawyer in his own right, has been waiting for this. He told the Hollywood Reporter:
We’ve certainly been prepared for this and we certainly will defend this lawsuit. There are a lot of issues surrounding a fan film. These fan films have been around for 30 years, and others have raised a lot of money.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t look particularly good for the future of the Axanar project, especially with original content still in active production for the license, such fan productions only traditionally exist with the permission or lack of interest from license holders. Despite their love of the source material, it seems as if Peters and company may have engaged in a no-win scenario.
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