Crisis of Infinite Star Treks: For the World Wide Web is Hollow and I Have Touched The Pie

This is the 19th 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 saying this is the most depressing entry, but well, read on.

I want to tell you a story.

It’s not a particularly happy story, but it’s a true story. It’s my story and yet I feel it is many a fan’s story: one marked first by excitement, giddy anticipation, fear, shock, and then horror and disgust.

Then, at the end, pie.

But more on the pie later.

Let’s go back to the beginning of this series, all the way back to November 2015. The first announcement of a new Star Trek series and cautious optimism.

Then the fast and furious action trailer for Star Trek Beyond in December and the realization of the cold equations with how Paramount will likely be making Star Trek films.

Then the Axanar lawsuit and the feeling that Big Business was, in a familiar narrative, trampling on the passion of the little guy rather than trying to figure out how to harness said passion.

Because of the implications for fan productions and use of intellectual property (IP), I continued to follow the case. I had given a nominal amount to Axanar’s IndieGoGo campaign after seeing Prelude to Axanar as it seemed a worthy fan cause, so I certainly wanted to see the resulting fan feature.

But in hindsight, I think I might have sensed some things were a bit weird. Why was Axanar singled out? After reading a Newsweek article that mentioned some discord in the fan community, I stumbled across a passionate editorial to take a stand in the Axanar case, I had a bad feeling. Still, as I’ve observed bad blood in office politics, there’s rarely advantage to get involved if you don’t have to. And I’m not a fan film producer, so I didn’t have to, right?

Then came the judge’s ruling on Axanar’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. I read it with my usual excitement, amped up now because of the amicus brief regarding Klingon. And something didn’t sit right. That initial pull away from the Briar Patch seemed premature. What was going on down the rabbit hole? What truths were down there.

And like Chekov and his gun, I had to find out.

Shouldn't it be "his phaser?"

Shouldn’t it be “his phaser?”

No, not him. I mean Anton.

Sheesh. Modernist.

Sheesh. Modernist.

NO! Not Yelchin. Stop being such Star Trek fans for crying out loud.

Fine, theater nerd.

Fine, theater nerd.

That’s the one. Gotta love that depressing Russian sonofabitch.

So yeah, Anton Chekhov’s gun had to go off, and so I went down the rabbit hole.

As Sam Beckett might say, “Oh, boy.”

My first entry into this world of people-far-more-into-following-the-Axanar-lawsuit-than-I landed on the inevitable Facebook group of CBS vs Axanar: a group that wanted to be a spot to talk about the lawsuit… and apparently liked pie.

The part about the pie confused me. But more on that later.

I was shocked and actually noted the difference between posts there and posts on the Axanar Facebook group were like visiting two different worlds (Eminiar 7 and Vendikar, perhaps? Ya gotta keep the Trek references going).

What I got in response was multiple people saying that they did not hate Axanar Productions, nor its head Alec Peters. Instead, I received a number of nuanced, thoughtful replies of how they were not hating on the person, but being disgusted by the behavior.

I was pointed to and found many additional articles indicating behavior that raises many questions about the conduct of Axanar Productions in terms of how it’s been handling someone else’s IP and about the conduct of Alec Peters and others in handling other people.

For those interested, I recommend checking out 1701 News and its rather exhaustive archive about Axanar-related articles.

There’s also Axamonitor, I site/wiki created solely to follow the case, provide context to rumors, and follow up on allegations.

And naturally, there has been talk of these matters on Reddit, like the suggestion Axanar Productions has used the fan donations to prep a for-profit studio over and above trying to make a fan film.

Oh, did that get your attention? Here’s someone who was evidently paying closer attention than I was back in January talking about why they are not comfortable with what Axanar is up to.

And here’s someone who originally tried to help out as a fellow fan film creator, and was asked to do something unethical.

There's a 'but' in there, isn't there?

There’s a ‘but’ behind this, isn’t there?

Yes. Yes, there is. Because even with all these questions, I’m certain some of these concerns could (and have) been dismissed as here-say. Some matters are speculation. Some are matters specifically denied by Axanar Productions. I don’t know Alec Peters personally, nor any of the Axanar team.

And on one level, doesn’t that make this a fan version of office politics?

Perhaps. And if I were more of a neutral lawyer type, I would say that –or not even have written this post at all– but I’m not neutral.

This doesn’t mean I’m joining in any attacks on Axanar (though from reading some comments, it sounds like simply writing this post, I am a ‘hater’). I have no personal beef with Alec Peters or Axanar Productions. Perhaps I’d even enjoy a Romulan Ale with them in other circumstances.

But if you can read all those articles and not feel that Axanar and co. have done some –at the very, very least– bone-headed things, I have a Ferengi that wants to sell you the planet Earth.

I mentioned office politics and I try to avoid them as much as possible, but I also try to avoid the office Machiavellis: those who scheme and add to strife.

Because, you see, even if I don’t know which side is right, when one side says, “Here is my issue with several sober details laid out and why I feel wronged.”

And the other side says, “CBS/Paramount SUCKS! Axanar Trek is TRU TREK! HATERS!”

Well, I don’t need to pick sides, but I know who to avoid at the water cooler.

And really, there’s something quite loathsome about some of the comments I’ve read in this trip down the rabbit hole. I know the David vs. Goliath story is compelling. I know. I latched onto that narrative too as you might recall from my January post which essentially launched this whole series (previously, it was just a couple posts about Star Trek).

But at the same time, I absolutely, positively believe in the rights of intellectual property owners (as I’ve said before). Fans don’t own the IP. They can attempt to sway it, they can pledge devotion to it, or even abandon it, but they can never own it.

So that’s why stuff like this irks me no end:

From http://www.sci-fest.com/#!short-films/m7wwv for an event on Saturday, May 21st.

From http://www.sci-fest.com/#!short-films/m7wwv for an event on Saturday, May 21st.

Seriously, WTF?!?

(That’s hoW‘s That Fandom?, by the way).

You’re the subject of a lawsuit for stealing someone else’s property, and you let someone advertise your film like that? (Lord forbid Axanar provided the copy).

People have said they stand with Axanar and some have said they stand with CBS.

I stand with Star Trek.

I enjoy many of the fan films, and think they should continue as a side of Star Trek we don’t always see — and as a great outlet for the fans (and not coincidentally, a good way for CBS/Paramount to engage with said fans). I don’t like the idea that someone might be trying to profit off someone else’s IP. That’s not right.

Now, at this point in my post (I started it on May 14th and figured I’d be able to post it Friday, May 20th), I originally proposed two solutions, both predicated on the thought that the lawsuit was still pending.

The first solution was in case Alec Peters and Axanar Productions have been acting in good faith for the most part — and mistakes and mean-spirited comments were the result of idiocy, which, while enraging, is usually not a crime.

In that case, the solution would be to settle with CBS/Paramount. Settle and hopefully fulfill the promise to fans in making the film.

The second solution was in case Axanar Productions has not been acting in good faith and that some or all of the accusations of greed and general Ferengi-like avarice were accurate. In that case, my hope was that, yes, let them be crushed in the court. Let their misdeeds become known, but let CBS/Paramount create official guidelines for fan films. Further, let them use such guidelines to deepen their relationship and engagement with fans.

With this weekend’s bombshell announcement that “the lawsuit was going away” that changes matters. It looks like there will be some sort of settlement (no, the lawsuit wasn’t “dropped” as has been reported) and CBS/Paramount will be releasing some guidelines.

First off, context.  Janet Gershen-Siegel did everyone a solid with her breakdown of the ruling on the motion to dismiss, and she does a good job here explaining what this bombshell announcement mean… so far.

There’s also a piece on 1701 News reporting on statements people have made. Axanar Productions has also responded, as mentioned in the 1701 piece.

I mention these two sites because, unlike the slew of brief articles that I have seen friends post, they actually understand that CBS/Paramount has not dropped the lawsuit. After the judge’s ruling, why would CBS/Paramount? This simply puts them in a stronger position to settle.

And while I’m glad to hear there will likely be a settlement, there’s now rampant speculation as to whether that will mean an Axanar film, if the new fan film guidelines will be too restrictive (e.g. in the “be careful what you wish for” category), and if we’ll ever get a solid answer as to what Axanar was intending and what they did or didn’t do.  I assume legal discovery does not necessarily happen with a settlement the same way it might if you’re going to trial.

Regardless, I hope there are answers soon. Answers on the settlement. Answers on the film guidelines. But don’t think this is a victory of David over Goliath. It’s not that simple. Again, maybe some of the Axanar actions can be credited to idiocy, but too many people have pointed to too many stories to make me believe them entirely blameless.

Uncovering all of this has left a very bad taste in my mouth for fandom and crowdfunding and vitriol spewed on the Internets.

And I’m not sure if justice or Star Trek will be well served.

When I mentioned that having all these details come to light was edifying, but depressing, the CBS vs. Axanar group responded.

“That’s why we have pie.”

pies_many

I guess that will have to do.

10 responses to “Crisis of Infinite Star Treks: For the World Wide Web is Hollow and I Have Touched The Pie

  1. Thank you for this nice and to the point of how many feel.

  2. Fine job covering just one side of this story and not even bothering to ask questions of Axanar Productions. You’re not a “hater”, just not interested in presenting both sides, apparently.

    • As I mentioned in the post, I’m not neutral. Nor is a personal blog required to “present both sides” especially as I don’t think this is a binary two-side matter. I’m presenting my side.

      I hope the settlement talks result in something that all sides can be happy with.

  3. Thanks. I was concerned that it was going to be overcome by events because of this weekend, but felt the whole path of discovery was something to share.

  4. Thank you again for the cite!

    Most people are not privy to the workings of your standard lawsuit. Settlement talks are common, ongoing, and rarely reported in court filings. They can happen on the eve of trial (usually referred to as happening ‘on the courthouse steps’) or just before a jury hands down a verdict or even afterwards if it turns out a verdict is too high to be paid all at once. Sometimes plaintiff just never wants to see defendant ever again, and will take the ‘bird in the hand’ route and accept a smaller amount in exchange for putting a bow on the whole thing.

    We may see NDAs (probably) and it seems most likely we will see just a brief one or two page filing on PACER. It could be within the few weeks of Abrams’s prediction (I doubt he has an inside track on the precise moment of settlement) or earlier or later or negotiations could even break down entirely.

    In the meantime, I’ll check PACER and try not to get any pie on the monitor. 🙂

    • Hmm, considering we live in a world where “Jimmy Johns” feels the need to get their sandwich makers to sign non-compete agreements, I guess we should expect non-disclosure agreements aplenty for this case.

  5. Wonderful piece, and having been a part of all this (I left Axanar just over a year ago for many reasons, including having film work elsewhere) I can tell you your tone is impeccably fair. (As may well be evidenced by angry reactions against my telling you so here, which, of course, would reiterate your hilariously accurate water cooler strategy. Thanks for that one!)

    • Thanks for the kind words.

      I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank you for your part in bringing Prelude to Axanar to life. I guess I could have elaborated more in this piece (although elsewhere in my posts, I describe Prelude as “awesome”), but I really did find it very enjoyable and great ‘Trek.’ Whatever concerns I may have about other matters, that’s still true.

      I hope you’re having fun with your latest filmic endeavors.

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