Monthly Archives: April 2016

Crisis of Infinite Star Treks: Being a P’tach about the Klingon Language

Would you believe this is the 15th entry in an ongoing series on Star Trek’s future and fandom? Don Adams would.

Eriq Gardner wrote a good article in the Hollywood Reporter yesterday about a recent amicus brief filed in relation to the CBS/Paramount lawsuit against the Axanar fan film.

As I’ve mentioned earlier in this blog series, I absolutely believe that CBS/Paramount has real and legally binding ownership of Star Trek intellectual property (IP). For non-fans, this may sound like common sense, but for some fans, they seem to need to be reminded of this fact.

However, when it comes to the Klingon language, that’s work-for-hire they’ve given out free to the world to build and improve upon in a way languages naturally grow. Languages naturally want to be open-source anyway, much to the chagrin of Grammar Police everywhere.

So I won’t be surprised is CBS/Paramount finds a way to rein in what they see as Axanar Productions’ excesses in producing their fan film(s), but I will be surprised if there’s a ruling that curtails study and development of Klingon. I’m aware of trademark erosion, where brand names like Kleenex and Xerox become generic terms for facial tissue and copying respectively. This seems more in the copyright realm, so I don’t know what legal precedents may apply.

But again, as I mentioned in Letting Go of the Canon, the mere mortals have fire. Trying to copyright an entire language, even though it is a constructed one, appears unprecedented. Will the lawyers attempt to relate this to a computer code? I used the term “open-source” above and that might give some guidance to how people can and cannot make “derivative works” to this original “work-for-hire.” (Okay, so originally it was, “Hey James Doohan, can you help us out for a minute?” if Klingon origin stories are correct).

I may have to bug some lawyers I know on this one.

Crisis of Infinite Star Treks: The Briar Patch

This is the 14th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks. I’m not sure if this is a lucky number or not.

Michael Hinman’s passionate article shows a side I haven’t really delved into too much, not being a fan film producer. The not-so-nice comments by Axanar’s Alec Peters I first read about in the excellent Newsweek article I expounded about at length last week are touched on here. And apparently there are also some concerns about how Axanar Productions has been spending its crowdfunded funds.

Alas, I fear this is getting into more into inside baseball (or perhaps inside Parrises squares, I’m not sure). Many of the articles I see are either from established media outlets (e.g. Hollywood Reporter, Newsweek) or pro-Axanar, so I found it important to mention this other perspective, especially as I had assumed all the fan productions were a coalition.

At the same time, trying to keep up with all the feelings and factions within the Star Trek fan community seems like going down a rabbit hole (see title above) where I don’t have anything at stake — at least not compared to fan producers.

I hope Star Trek fan films continue to flourish — and that CBS/Paramount finds a framework to allow it. I firmly believe both they and fans will profit by it.

I’m sure there’s a Rule of Acquisition in there somewhere.

Recommended Reading: The Actual Science Behind Dyson & Other Dryers

Recently, there’s been some news stories making the rounds on the Internets about the Dyson “air blade” hand dryer things actually being horrible germ-distributing death machines, etc. etc. etc.

The reason for this conclusion appears to be the usual search for sensation by reporters as explained in this entertaining article by Emma Bryce.

Don’t worry hypochondriacs, you can still worry.

Recommended Reading: A FiveThirtyEight Look at Basic Income

I’ve been reading a lot about basic income over the past year or so, from activist like Scott Santens as well as actual studies that have been and are being done.

So I was very pleased to see that the data-driven news site FiveThirtyEight decided to do a feature length article about it. If you want to get an idea about what basic income is all about — and what we really know about what it can do at this point, this thorough article by Andrew Flowers is a good introduction.

Recommended Viewing: An Organizational Psychologist on Original Thinkers

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant decided to look into what makes creative thinker creative in this TED Talk. (about 16 minutes)

I’m going to have to check out more of this sort of work.

More on Robots and the Automation of Everything

Following up on my post last week about robots and the law, I read a piece by Gideon Lewis-Kraus in Wired about a robot hotel.

Of course it’s in Japan.

Crisis of Infinite Star Treks: Of Paramount and Puppets

This is the 13th of the ongoing series about Star Trek’s future and its fandom. I’m as surprised as anyone it keeps going, but hey, that’s why tagging is so handy (or click on Crisis of Infinite Star Treks).

So, a pair of links today. The first is an article by Marc Perton that appeared this afternoon in Newsweek. If you haven’t been following this story for months like some of us nuts, it does a splendid job of catching you up. However, even as one of those nuts who has been following the story, well, he’s a reporter. He does some fine dispassionate reporting uncovering aspects of the story I wasn’t aware of, so I feel you’re getting a fair primer of Star Trek fan films and Axanar by reading it.

That said, I do hope he does a follow-up, because his “3rd party observer” approach allows a better look at one of the greyer areas of the case. I’m referring here to the suggestion that Axanar is being targeting because of its quality, that it’s a victim of its own success in emulating “true” Star Trek so well.

And Axanar looking so good –so professional– is by design. Alec Peters and the Axanar crew want it to look good. However, I think Perton touches on the fact that Peters and company really do not want this to be a cute curio that’s the result of hobbyists. Like many an ardent fan before them, they want a seat at the IP table. Previously, fans haven’t had that chance unless a studio hands them the keys to the IP kingdom, as they did for Peter Jackson and Lord of the Rings and reportedly have done for Justin Lin of the upcoming Star Trek Beyond (i.e. both of them are avowed fans of the IP they then get to direct movies of).

But in our modern age of sophisticated fan films, it’s almost as if Axanar is making its own table within the space traditionally granted by Paramount/CBS for fan films and saying, “Hey, we can come over to the main table any time you want.”

From a Star Trek fan perspective, this is great news.  If we’re going to hear a cover band, we want it to be a good cover band, not just people who are really exciting about playing musical instruments — and let’s face it, many a Star Trek fan film has been the equivalent of spastic guitar playing.

It's as if this guy said, "I can make a Star Trek TV show."

It’s as if this guy said, “I can make a Star Trek TV show.”

 

We don’t want spastic. We want good songs played in that classic Trek style or at least “sound like Trek.” Besides which, more Trek is good. But beyond the use or misuse of this or that part of someone’s intellectual property, there’s the attitude behind the fan production — and that’s something I haven’t seen written about much.

It strikes me that Axanar Productions is doing two things. On the one hand, they’re trying to make a fan film about Star Trek, something that the IP rights holders have allowed for over a decade at least. On the other hand, they are trying to build a sustainable business model… using, in part, these same IP rights.

It’s clear that the people behind Star Trek: New Voyages (aka Phase II) and Star Trek Continues not only want to keep making Trek, but have gotten increasingly professional about how to make sure they can keep making Trek — just like any good business would, non-profit or otherwise. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, it’s not individuals who are renting sound stages for fan productions nor paying for building sets, it’s production companies. They’re still labors of love. I’m sure the showrunners have spent their own money and probably still do — and a lot of people work on these productions for no or low money. However, it’s way more of an official operation than some people happening to get together one weekend to see if they can make a film. Thousands of people know this model and approve of this model because they’ve given them money in crowdfunding campaigns. Simply put: fan film producers want Trek fans to give them money so they can make Trek fan films. They’re using Trek the IP as a draw to raise money to make Trek.

Axanar Productions appears to be taking that approach and being very forthright that they want this to be an ongoing enterprise (you knew I’d use that term). As I indicated last month, I thought Axanar was trying to do this as a non-profit enterprise all to honor the official unofficial rule from CBS/Paramount: thou shall not make a profit. All the fan productions appear to be using the idea of Star Trek, the Star Trek IP in other words, to fuel their crowdfunding campaigns. So they totally are using CBS/Paramount’s IP for business reasons, albeit non-commercial ones, right? I think it may come down to attitude.

I believe lawyers would characterize this in terms of “intent” and “good faith” and so on: basically the legal of equivalent of “well, we know Godzilla rampaged across Tokyo and destroyed buildings and the inevitable plastic tanks. However, was he destroying things because he wanted to as in the original Godzilla or was he destroying them because he was, in fact, defending Tokyo from an evil monster as in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla?”

Really, if there were more legal opinions that referenced Godzilla, I think we’d all be better off –or at least entertained– but I digress.

This seriousness of Axanar Productions is something that non-lawyers have picked up on when the topic of the Axanar lawsuit comes up. I’ve talked with many casual fans or people who haven’t been following the story closely and we all sense that there’s something a little bit different here: a disturbance in the Force, to mix franchises.

Unfortunately, I feel the issue of making a fan film using someone’s IP and the issue of making a sustainable business using someone’s IP is being conflated in most articles. After all, the CBS/Paramount lawsuit appears to be mainly concerned about making a fan film using their IP, like the other fan films. Heck, they’ve even come out wanting to protect the Klingon language which, like most real languages, is now out in the wild, with speakers making their own minds up about what is and isn’t Klingon. So rulings that shutter Axanar Productions and its fan film could have the consequence of shuttering all the other increasingly good Star Trek fan films.

Axanar Productions is pushing the limit of what fan films can be and, to be fair, they’re quite up front about wanting to push the limits of what fan films can be. That could be the issue: that they’re making this more professional and not a hobby. They’re trying to make Star Trek their livelihood. It’s as if instead of just doing cosplay as a Klingon, I started selling my versions of Klingon armor — and that’s how I earn my daily bread. At some point, CBS/Paramount is going to say, look, ya gotta license that — and they’re right to do so.

That said, how about making some of these labors of love licensed? I would love for this to be a sustainable non-profit endeavor for some of these Trek fan productions. Just as JJ Abrams went to the R2-D2 hobbyists for some of their droid work and just as LEGO goes to some of its ardent fan builders on occasion to become new Master Builders, so too do I think that CBS/Paramount could look to fan production for new ideas and new blood (green, purple, or otherwise).

Lest we forget, this is how Trek did it in the TNG/Ds9/Voyager era: they were open to writing submissions. Ronald Moore, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, and others joined through their scripts and made deep impacts on Trek.

Now you could have a series of not-for-profit R&D groups not only writing scripts, but shooting films: all trying to excite the Star Trek fanbase. You basically have a bunch of Star Trek zealots ready to make some proof-of-concepts for you. Good ideas can be promoted up to the ‘major leagues’ while other ideas can remain in the ‘minors’ as ‘Star Trek Legends’ or something similar.

At the same time, for better or worse, I think that’s CBS/Paramount’s call for how they want to allow fan productions to continue (to say nothing of learning the Klingon language). They own the rights. Fans do not, nor will ever own the rights. (See Letting Go of the Canon last week). I can only hope they do it in such a way that encourages innovation and fan creation. I am convinced that the wider universe of Trek will be better for it.

###

Okay, so that’s all very serious, so let’s have a second link I found this afternoon. The second link is an immeasurably more entertaining link, it’s Stalled Trek: Prelude to Ax’d-We-Are, a puppet/animation version of Prelude to Axanar. If it was just a parody of the fan film or Star Trek in general, it’d be fun, but of course, getting extra meta, they manage to fit in the lawsuit as well.

Luckily, allowances for satire and parody should allow it to remain around, though it really makes you wonder what the intellectual property legal landscape will be when all this dust settles.

And will I be able to call it space dust without being sued?

Recommended Reading: How American TV Gets Made (with a Case Study of The Americans)

I love to learn more about the nuts and bolts of how productions get made as it teaches me what I should do (and can conceivably do) for the indie productions I work on.

So I found this feature article by Caroline Framke in Vox about how an episode of The Americans gets on the air quite absorbing.

And I don’t even watch the series (yet).

You can never escape the shadow of Star Trek V

This is the 12th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

Trevor Law over at Nerd Union is worried about Star Trek and its future.

There’s worries about how Paramount is handling the movie franchise and worries about whether fans will spring for the extra ducats required to sign up for CBS All Access.

As I’m being reminded with all this “Saturday Morning quarterbacking,” Star Trek fans are a nitpicky lot. I’m not going to absolve myself from this. I mean, most normal humans would have seen December’s trailer and been like, “Huh. Action-y.” I had to research global box office numbers and angst about it online.

I think at this point, it’s probably good to remind ourselves that although many of us are Star Trek fans because its stories make us reflect on the human condition, they are made by humans.

Code of honor, anyone?

Code of Honor, anyone?

No matter how much you revel in the great stories Trek has produced, it has also produced dreck.

Don't think the original series if off the hook either, fanboys.

Don’t think the original series is off the hook either, fanboys.

Here’s hoping we have more of the good stuff.

Recommended Reading: Robots and the Law

Anyone familiar with some of Isaac Asimov’s classic robot stories knows they are full of intriguing “what if?” scenarios.

Well, now we’re at the cusp of these “what if?” scenarios being “so, when this happens next week…” scenarios. What will we do then?

Ryan Calo explores this in an article from last month.

Short story ideas are a-brewing.