As an avid trekkie, the latest on the copyright infringement brought by CBS and Paramount against Axanar is riveting. Published at a time when CBS and Paramount were planning to launch a TV show #StarTrek Discovery, Axanar had claimed that their film ‘Prelude’ is a ‘mockumentary’ and that its output was intended to be non-commercial. They also argued that over the past 50 years disseminated fan fiction films like Prelude actually help CBS and Paramount by maintaining engagement with fans in leaner years. There is of course no copyright in an idea and Axanar did not use characters central to Star Trek such as Captain Kirk and Spock. Some facts however came to light that controvert Axanar’s claims of non-commercial intent made. Prelude is a full length movie which raised £1 million online. In addition Axanar representatives claimed they wanted to make a professional looking film and that they attempted to meet with Netflix to become a producer of Star Trek as well as making a trade mark application for the word Axanar. These facts do nothing to help the logic of Axanar’s defence. Ultimately the question for the judge boiled down to whether the ‘fair use defence’ raised by Axanar trumped CBS and Paramount’s claim to copyright infringement. It did not and the judge found that Prelude used far too much of the Star Trek canon material, such as Klingons, Vulcans and the character of Garth of Izar, to be considered anything but a Star Trek rip off. This means the case will now be referred for a jury of ‘ordinary people’ to decide whether Prelude is ‘substantially similar’ to Star Trek. Applying Vulanesque reasoning (albeit the jury is made up of ‘ordinary people’) the likely result is to be in the affirmative and Axanar will be found to be an infringement.
In light of all this, one trekkie fan plans to be cautious when it comes to release of any home spun Star Trek Movie. Luckily for me CBS and Paramount have issued guidelines to let me know what I can do without being at risk of some formal looking papers coming through the post. You can read them at https://www.startrek.com/fan-films.
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