This copyright lawsuit, CBS/Paramount versus Axanar, is nearly nine months on now, and I still have problems wrapping my head around it; more specifically the reasoning behind it. There is absolutely no logic behind it and no way for CBS or Paramount to come away from this better off than they were, even if they do win.
Now I am no legal expert but I have watched enough Perry Mason to know that precedents carry a lot of weight in court, both decision made in the court room and actions outside that may prove relevant to any case. Example: A defendant in a murder trial will have any and all accounts of any previous violent behavior he was ever observed having or had the police called about.
Axanar is accused of copyright infringement, but the precedence of CBS and Paramount’s actions in the past regarding their loose reins on their IP is a strike against them. Indeed Star Trek New Voyages and Star Trek Continues, both fan productions, have been continuing the 5 year mission of the Original series, using the same characters, costumes designs, same ship designs, and same theme music for several years.
The man behind Star Trek New Voyages, James Cawley, has on at least one occasion told the story of his approaching Paramount about his making new episodes for The Original Series as a fan production to which they answered, “You can make the project, you can make these films but you cannot make money. You can’t profit from “Star Trek” because then you’d have to stop.” **
So why the change of stance with Axanar? Why this lawsuit?
It certainly could not have been the inclusion of the Constitution class starship of which class the Original Enterprise was one of.
It could have not been the use of Klingons or the Klingon language because both have been used in New Voyages.
It could not be the use of professional actors or Star Trek alum because again both have been used in other Star Trek fan productions:
Star Trek: Of Gods and Men; Nichelle Nichols, Grace Lee Whitney, Tim Russ, Walter Koenig, Robert Picardo and Alan Ruck all reprising roles they had in franchise Star Trek productions as well as Trek Alum; J.G. Hertzler (Martok), Chase Masterson (Leeta), Gary Graham (Soval), Garret Wang (Ensign Kim), Ethan Phillips (Neelix), and Cirroc Lofton (Jake Sisko) playing different characters.
Star Trek Renegades; Tim Russ, Walter Koenig, Robert Picardo, Cirroc Lofton, and Manu Intiraymi reprising their franchise characters with Gary Graham taking on his previous non-frachise role, Ragnar.
Star Trek New Voyages; has enjoyed the company of both Walter Koenig and George Takei reprising their franchise roles, Chekov and Sulu as well as Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar) in the two episode arc Blood and Fire.
Star Trek Continues; has had many Star Trek alum Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Chris Doohan, Beau Billingslea, Kipleigh Brown, Bobby Clark, and Doug Drexler, as well as many other SciFi acting veterans.
It could not have been using Kickstarter or GoFundMe crowd funding campaigns as New Voyages held one for financing the construction of their new sets. (https://youtu.be/Xtg4Y6FWk9M?list=PL5h4ur_aSq8N5yx46vUjnNbsaQ74kcBLV ). Continues has had three similar campaigns.
So, again the question; Why Axanar? What did they do to so different or so wrong that they deserve such specialized and individual attention? Well, two things. One, they produced a superb, twenty-one minute teaser, Prelude To Axanar. Second, they raised over $1 million during their crowdfunding campaigns.
While neither of these are illegal, it is my belief that the quality of the teaser and the $1 million of available capital scared the shit out of CBS and Paramount to which they saw a threat to the third movie in the new alternate timeline, Star Trek and of an upcoming Star Trek cable series, that are the main reasons for the lawsuit.
I wondered why the other Star Trek fanfilm production teams did not step up and ask these same questions, certainly they were just as concerned about being served with a lawsuit but CBs and Paramount have been aware of many fanfilm makers for years, not just New Voyages and Continues but Farragut, Exeter, Intrepid, Saladin and Hidden Frontiers.
Why did not James Cawley, who had a good working relationship with Paramount, step up and if not intervene, then at least offer to sit in and maybe help mediate or negotiate? Maybe hammer out a set of guidelines we can all be happy with?
As I sit and think back to various online discussions and comments, a memory comes to mind, comments regarding tensions between the creator of Axanar and the creators of both New Voyages and Continues. Might they have put a bug in the ear of CBS and/or Paramount? Jealous at the success of the crowdfunding or of the fan hoopla over the teaser? Past deeds or words that might have halted or prevented the forming of what could have been a coalition of fanfilm makers mutually supporting each other, if not financially, then in terms of resources and information? (“Hey I got a great bargain on set dressing stuff at Ikea.” Or “Let me give you the contact info for a great voice actor.”) Wait, the creator of Axanar made a Facebook group just for that, the Star Trek Film Maker Association.
As I type this blog, this pathetic attempt to organize my thoughts on this matter and make sense of it, it must be noted that the aforementioned third movie of the alternate timeline, Star Trek Beyond, was released roughly 3 weeks ago and is tanking at the box office with a loss of almost $50 million after three weekends.
In my opinion, Paramount has lost a large portion of their Star Trek fan base as a result to both the poor movies that were Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness and their filing of the lawsuit against Axanar. Fans talk, network and connect. It seems that both CBS and Paramount must now learn a painful lesson; they may own the physical and intellectual property that is Star Trek but they are not the reason Star Trek has survived for 50 years, that credit goes to three generations of fans. Star Trek will live through many more generations of fans, whether it is through family or neighborhood made fanfilm, fanfiction, or small, local fan conventions, Star Trek will live with or without CBS or Paramount.
** Jamer Cawley Interview by TNZ on 29 April 2011 ( http://www.trekzone.de/content/cc/fandom/interviews/tzn-exclusive-interview-with-james-cawley.htm )
TZN: Now that the new movie established a new universe, does Paramount grant you more leeway with your adventures in the prime universe?
Cawley: Paramount doesn’t say anything. They don’t say: “You can do this but you can’t do that.” Five years ago, when we started, they said: “You can make the project, you can make these films but you cannot make money. You can’t profit from “Star Trek” because then you’d have to stop.” That’s the only thing they’ve ever said. And that’s officially.
Unofficially, I talked to a lot of people that work for Paramount over the years and they loved the project. They think we’re doing a great job and I think they look at us as free publicity. We keep “Star Trek” alive when they don’t have anything new out there for the fans to be involved. And I think that’s why they like us. We just try to keep the brand alive, we try to keep the fans active with “Star Trek” so that they’re gonna buy the books, and the model kits, and the DVDs and all that stuff. (laughs)
And I think that’s why they like us doing this. Certainly, if they didn’t like it they would call me up and say: stop! And they never do that. They’re very good. They’re on my website all of the time, you know, we go to our Analytics and see Paramount and CBS, we know they’re there and they like it. They’ve been very good to us. JJ was very gracious to me, they’ve just been wonderful. They seem to enjoy it, we enjoy it and it’s for mutual benefit. We get to play “Star Trek” and it helps them sell “Star Trek” merchandise.