This is the seventh entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.
Christine Wang at CNBC had an article yesterday giving an update on the Axanar Lawsuit.
In the good news, at least in the court of opinion, the director of the upcoming Star Trek Beyond, Justin Lin essentially tweeted his support for Axanar.
I would strongly suspect Justin Lin got contacted by someone at CBS or Paramount to get some additional backstory and advice on further tweets.
That’s because as of March 11th, CBS/Paramount has an amended complaint, and it’s probably not going to look so good in, y’know, the actual court legally binding opinion (should we get to that).
I should pause here and disclose that, since there are rather a lot of lawyers here in the Washington, DC area (it’s true, ask Tom Paxton!), I’ve talked with some of them about the lawsuit in passing. And while they are not necessarily familiar with this lawsuit –or in some cases Star Trek– several are quite familiar with intellectual property (IP), licensing, and non-profits, so here are some of the take-aways:
1) Axanar may have let this escalate
The lawyers I spoke with don’t see a scenario where CBS/Paramount would not have sent a cease and desist letter to Axanar prior to the lawsuit. Companies, especially mega-corporations used to protecting their IP, routinely do that for precisely the “threat of the big stick effect” I mentioned in January’s post.
That means Axanar Productions may have ignored the cease-and-desist letter, which is, and I’m pretty sure this is the legal term: crazypants.
Again, this is speculation on the part of lawyers unfamiliar with the case, but familiar with how large companies –including entertainment companies– operate. Further research or articles may shed light on whether Axanar was sent a cease & desist and ignored it, but if it’s true, that’s a bad error on Axanar’s part.
2) California cares about non-profit status a lot
I had no idea about this and I don’t know all the details, but the one lawyer mentioned this could be a significant factor with the whole “not making a profit” aspect of the matter.
This came up when I mentioned how CBS/Paramount had allowed fan productions to exist as they didn’t make a profit and that I believed Axanar was pursuing getting formal non-profit status.
Star Trek Continues, for example, has Trek Continues, Inc. a bona fide, 501 (c)(3) that is all about looking at the original Star Trek series for “educational” reasons. That’s cool. It’s not uncommon for hobbyist/fan groups to emphasize their educational and community service leanings. The 501st Legion from that other Star franchise actually delights in doing community service things while all armored up.
So yeah, I know that it can take a year or so to get non-profit status, but that might be an issue.
3) There’s no way Axanar can win the lawsuit
This is the big one. I have quibbles (not tribbles) with the claim of the Klingon language or just about any language being owned, but I get why it’s part of CBS/Paramount’s exhaustive listing of infringements. Look at the amended claim and you’ll see dozens of examples of ways in which Axanar is copying Star Trek. This is one thing I feel the article above is getting imprecise. It’s not that CBS/Paramount is arguing they own the copyright to gold uniform shirts and pointy ears, it’s that those elements –along with several dozen other elements– are what makes this an unlicensed copy of Star Trek.
So now we get to the real awkwardness of this post. Because if CBS/Paramount can show that Star Trek Axanar is a copy (and it’s quite clear they can), then any other fan film is also a copy subject to lawsuit. Not a shocker for anyone with common sense or someone noting “Star Trek” is in both titles. However, absent any sort of license or agreement, the fan productions can be shut down at any time.
Again, makes sense legally, but as previously mentioned, some of us have gotten used to our homemade ice cream.
Let’s not have a General Order 24 of the fan productions, please!