Crisis of Infinite Star Treks: The Guidelines After the Gobsmack

This is the 25th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

So, after June 23rd’s astounding reveal by CBS/Paramount about their fan film guidelines, I took in a lot of the reactions (reactions you can see back on that post, btw).

But even though it’s now decades later in Internet time, I wanted to comment on the guidelines, in part because, in one of my earlier posts, I mentioned that I, as an indie filmmaker who specifically likes working on sci-fi and fantasy projects, have shied away from doing fan films in part because of a lack of guidelines. I like the framework established by the SAG-AFTRA low budget agreements, for example, that allow me to legally work with professional union actors at low or deferred rates (if they’re willing). I would love for those SAG-AFTRA agreements to be even more flexible, but I’ll take what they have for now. Being able to work with willing union actors without risk –so long as I follow the union’s rules– is better than having all the blood, sweat, and tears inherent in any film production being at the whim of unofficial “understandings.”

So based on that experience, I absolutely wanted guidelines. Alec Peters of Axanar Productions has publicly stated he really wanted guidelines for Star Trek fan productions too. Anecdotally, he had asked CBS/Paramount for guidelines before the lawsuit hit and CBS/Paramount demurred.

Between my agreement with Peters on this point –someone many consider persona non trekka– and the fact that, as Axamonitor has noted, the current Star Trek fan film landscape has been rendered a desert of non-production, you might ask, “Are you happy now?” In fact, some of you might be thinking something along the lines of this:


Fair enough.

I’m not pleased nor happy, as it happens. However, after picking myself off the virtual floor upon my first reading of the guidelines, I went through them again. And I realized something.

They might be fair enough.

So I’ll list all of the guidelines verbatim and comment on them all to let you know how I came to that conclusion. (Note: if you want to skip my musings, you’re welcome to jump to the end to thoughts and reactions from other people including recovering lawyers).

The Guidelines

1) The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than 2 segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.

It’s little wonder that so many Star Trek fans, specifically fans of Star Trek fan films were shocked on June 23rd. This first guideline fundamentally changes the landscape of current fan productions. In fact, one wonders how ongoing series can possibly boldly go now.

Coming as the very first guideline, it’s little wonder a lot of us metaphorically tripped and tumbled down the rest of the guideline stairs. How will Star Trek Continues continue? What new voyages can New Voyages have?

But stop and ask yourself some questions. Can you do a story about Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the original series characters? Yes. Can you do some alternate Trek history where Riker commands the Enterprise after Picard’s death on the Borg cube? Yes. Can you do a follow-up to any existing canon work or simply make up your own tale in any era of Trek or your own heretofore unknown era of Trek? Yes, yes, and yes.

We’re shocked because this disrupts what some have already called the “Golden Age of Star Trek fan films.” In fact, it might bring much of those ongoing missions to an end.

But you know what’s better than fan productions? Actual Star Trek productions! And we have a big screen version coming out tomorrow that reportedly doesn’t suck along with a TV series coming in January with many a Star Trek vet on the production team.

I suspect this is where Axanar and I differ. They think the new guidelines are draconian, whereas when someone says “Draconian,” I think this:


Yes, I know a lot of you, when you hear “Draconian,” probably think this:


The galaxy is big enough for both of us… assuming The Doctor and Buck foil their respective Draconians’ plans.

Okay, we’re getting a bit off topic. Back to the guidelines.

This is the one that makes me distinctly displeased and glum. But if there’s enough quality official Trek, I think I’ll be okay. And I have a feeling I’ll be in good company when people count ticket sales of Star Trek Beyond as well as views on CBS All Access.

2) The title of the fan production or any parts cannot include the name “Star Trek.” However, the title must contain a subtitle with the phrase: “A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION” in plain typeface. The fan production cannot use the term “official” in either its title or subtitle or in any marketing, promotions or social media for the fan production.

Okay, this is a change from current fan productions, but quite understandable. CBS/Paramount wants these non-licensed productions to both clearly identify themselves as such and clearly delineate themselves from any official Trek.

I have no problem with this. Starship Reallycoolship: A Star Trek Fan Production works for me and I can’t imagine any of the existing fan productions kvetching about this. The only reason you would kvetch? You didn’t want to be considered a fan production, but both I and licensing departments for any IP the world over don’t know what to tell ya then.

3) The content in the fan production must be original, not reproductions, recreations or clips from any Star Trek production. If non-Star Trek third party content is used, all necessary permissions for any third party content should be obtained in writing.

So, they’re not looking for people to re-mix and package their IP and they don’t want people to, say, think they’re entitled to playing music in their Star Trek fan productions like Jerry Goldsmith’s epic Star Trek tracks that are not, in fact, owned by CBS/Paramount. Sensible.

Mind you, if you’re doing truly transformative work of parodies or commentary, Fair Use has your back. Comment on pop culture all you want, citizens.

4) If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek uniforms, accessories, toys and props, these items must be official merchandise and not bootleg items or imitations of such commercially available products.

Unless I’m mistaken, the main thrust of this is to make sure they’re doing right by the companies officially licensing Trek.

The operative phrase appears to be “If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek [stuff].” What if no really good commercially available tricorder exists for close-up shots? Can I not construct one myself?

Another example: The Star Trek movie uniforms from Wrath of Khan through Undiscovered Country are awesome, but the commercial versions are pretty pricey on places like Anovos (e.g. over $1,000 per costume). I seem to recall commercially available patterns for those costumes were available. What if an enterprising fan costumer found the right fabric and made a lot of the costumes? Does that violate this point?

From the Engage podcast, it sounds like the answer to this question is “no, it does not violate the guideline.” Enterprising fan prop creators or costumers may do their cool work… but they don’t want said enterprising prop or costume people to start a cottage industry renting said props and costumes to other productions.

I think there might be a further way to deal with any created fan costumes and props as I’ll delve into further down under Guideline # 6.

5) The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.

This guideline is another one that I know creates tremendous heartburn among the Star Trek fan film community (both creators and audiences). Combined with Guideline #1, this is the one that makes me most vexed (in an Austen way) or want to Kirk out (in a Star Trek way). Part of the fun of so many of the fan series has been the creative people behind and in front of the camera who’ve previously worked on Trek and other similarly fannish places.

Again, the appearance of original, new Trek may soothe this vexation. I reserve the right to do a flying leg kick at a later date, though.

6) The fan production must be non-commercial:

Absolutely no problem with that — and that was the premise of the unofficial guidelines, wasn’t it?

But wait, this one has a bunch of sub-guidelines, let’s look at those.

CBS and Paramount Pictures do not object to limited fundraising for the creation of a fan production, whether 1 or 2 segments and consistent with these guidelines, so long as the total amount does not exceed $50,000, including all platform fees, and when the $50,000 goal is reached, all fundraising must cease.

Oookay. Not so good at all for any of the continuing fan series, but they’ve theoretically been hamstrung or eliminated by Guideline # 1. The Engage podcast also clarified that private donations (e.g. rich uncles, etc.) are permissible.

The fan production must only be exhibited or distributed on a no-charge basis and/or shared via streaming services without generating revenue.

No problem with this whatsoever.

The fan production cannot be distributed in a physical format such as DVD or Blu-ray.

I’m used to dealing with SAG-AFTRA low budget agreements that make similar restrictions. No problem.

I understand how this is a blow to those who used the DVD/Blu-ray perk in their crowdfunding campaigns, but frankly, Guideline #1 has already meant you’re not in this for an ongoing series.

The fan production cannot be used to derive advertising revenue including, but not limited to, through for example, the use of pre or post-roll advertising, click-through advertising banners, that is associated with the fan production.

No problem with that.

No unlicensed Star Trek-related or fan production-related merchandise or services can be offered for sale or given away as premiums, perks or rewards or in connection with the fan production fundraising.

Again, a big blow for crowd-funders, but since Guideline # 1 means these aren’t ongoing series, that seems to have taken care of.

The fan production cannot derive revenue by selling or licensing fan-created production sets, props or costumes.

See Guideline #4 above. Again, this seems to be to protect actual companies that license Star Trek, but it could be a sticky wicket for even conscientious fan film creators.

I’m especially concerned with places such as Starbase Studios that are not looking to profit from set rentals, but are looking for donations from productions to cover the cost of their existence. And I think outfits like Starbase Studios could be cool as a resources where one can produce one’s one-off Star Trek fan adventures.

In the Engage podcast, CBS clarifies they’re fine with enterprising costumers and prop-makers building costumes and sets for their productions, but if productions are looking to buy costumes or props, they should be licensed goods.

Perhaps entities such as Starbase Studios could continue to operate as a non-profit, something official and ongoing that CBS/Paramount could grant a limited, non-commercial license that can provide resources for fan productions.  This group or groups could also be a place to donate sets, props, and costumes to after your fan production is done. I could see several fan productions paying it forward in this manner. That would reward the crafty fans and the thrifty fan producers.

7) The fan production must be family friendly and suitable for public presentation. Videos must not include profanity, nudity, obscenity, pornography, depictions of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or any harmful or illegal activity, or any material that is offensive, fraudulent, defamatory, libelous, disparaging, sexually explicit, threatening, hateful, or any other inappropriate content. The content of the fan production cannot violate any individual’s right of privacy.

Okay, this is another guideline that is completely understandable, but then potentially problematic for some fan productions. And fans may well point out that more adult behavior and illegal activity occurs in official Star Trek. So they’re basically saying it’s official Trek’s call to include this or not and fans shouldn’t try this at home.

This is a bit problematic as there seem to be more shades of gray (maybe not as bad as a second-season clipshow, but you know…). Sure you could still show Scotty’s love of scotch, right? Right? What about the most recent Star Trek Continues that touches on the subject of child abuse? Star Trek is often about philosophical and moral issues — and the famous interracial kiss from the original series was probably not deemed “family friendly” in some households at the time.

I would imagine the appropriately transformative work is still protected by fair use, but don’t be surprised if CBS/Paramount’s lawyers hail you on all frequencies.

8) The fan production must display the following disclaimer in the on-screen credits of the fan productions and on any marketing material including the fan production website or page hosting the fan production:

“Star Trek and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film intended for recreational use.  No commercial exhibition or distribution is permitted. No alleged independent rights will be asserted against CBS or Paramount Pictures.”

No problem here.

9) Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law.

Oh, how some people on forums fumed about this one, but come on. CBS/Paramount is basically saying how you can make non-fair use derivative works in a way that they probably won’t come after you. You’re playing in their sandbox in their yard. Yes, you might come up with a cool new alien. Something that’s clever and represents your creativity, so naturally you want to protect that intellectual property.

You know what the solution to that is? Make your own damn science fiction show and put the brand new alien in that.

Also, do you know how many alien races there are in Star Trek? For crying out loud, use some of them. I, for one, would love to see more tales about the Vaadwaur for one.

10) Fan productions cannot create or imply any association or endorsement by CBS or Paramount Pictures.

See also Guideline # 7 above. CBS/Paramount wants to protect its IP brand. No surprise there. Yes, you could wish for CBS/Paramount to give you permission more akin to a license, but they’re not. You might as well wish for them to give you a pony with warp nacelles while you’re at it.

CBS and Paramount Pictures reserve the right to revise, revoke and/or withdraw these guidelines at any time in their own discretion. These guidelines are not a license and do not constitute approval or authorization of any fan productions or a waiver of any rights that CBS or Paramount Pictures may have with respect to fan fiction created outside of these guidelines.

Look closely at just about any terms and conditions on any website and you’ll see that they too want the terms entirely at their discretion. You could complain, or again, you could make your own dang science fiction show. No crime in being influenced by Star Trek.

Okay, so there are my thoughts. If we break out the Guideline 6 and include that little “Oh, we can change things at any time, nyah” bit, there’s 17 different points CBS/Paramount wants you to adhere to. I have reservations about two of them (1 and 5) and partial reservations about one (7) because of how it could be overzealously enforced.

That’s not bad. The bad part is how it shakes up the fan production status quo, so I don’t blame anyone working on an ongoing series still feeling gobsmacked.

The Wednesday after the guidelines were released, in episode 5 of a new official Star Trek podcast, John Van Citters, an executive with CBS answers a lot of questions about the guidelines (I’ve cited it above, but you might want to give it a listen now).

So, what about other takes on the guidelines? As you might imagine, recovering lawyer Janet Gershen-Siegel takes a look at them at the G&T show. I especially like how she hypothesizes about what specifically might be allowed or not. Teresa Jusino also reacts to the guidelines over at the Mary Sue with feelings and thoughts that make sense to me overall — as well as some ire and snark for Axanar Productions. I’m afraid that the pro and anti Axanar forces will be in a Movellan/Dalek standoff for some time — neither are willing to turn off their battle computers (and the Movellans are still unwilling to admit they’re a completely lame alien race — please make no Doctor Who fan films with the Movellans).

But back to Star Trek. I do feel for the ongoing fan producers. The vast majority appear to have issued statements thanking CBS/Paramount for the ability to play in the Star Trek sandbox for so long without guidelines until now. I hope if they’re not continuing, they find a satisfactory way to wrap up.

And I hope they get to enjoy being a Star Trek fan with the rest of us.

Note: I’ve enjoyed writing this mini-series, but frankly, I’m sick of the “crisis” and more looking forward to just enjoying Trek. I’m not saying this my last entry in the series, but I’m hoping any subsequent entries amount to more of a denouement.

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