Miss me? Did you even notice I was gone? Hehe…Probably not.
Either way, it was an interesting holiday fortnight, writing-wise—a couple of rejections, a friend had his book series canceled, another friend’s newest got some great reviews, and one of my books is going out-of-print—but the one piece of writerly news that really sparked a discussion was a bit involving CBS, Paramount, and Star Trek.
You remember Star Trek, right? That other sci-fi mega-franchise. The one with good writing? The franchise that actually did break new ground?
Yeah. That one. Star Trek.
So, it seems that a few Star Trek fans got together and said, “Let’s put on a show!” They set up crowd-funding campaigns to raise funds and, Trekkies being who they are (i.e., nerds with disposable income), the crowd responded, raising over $1 million for the (pardon the pun) enterprise.
The result is Star Trek: Axanar, an ambitious project wherein our plucky heroes, Trekkies all, endeavor to create a professional, Hollywood-caliber feature film set in the Star Trek universe. This rag-tag team of intrepid idealists face obstacles both logistical and legal, forming an alliance thousands strong, but can they beat the formidable powers of The Conglomerate (adroitly played by CBS and Paramount Studios)?
Well, on 29 Dec 2015, as if on cue, CBS/Paramount brought out the big guns, slapping Axanar with a lawsuit, alleging that the producers have “unabashedly” taken CBS and Paramount’s intellectual property and used it to create something that will “look and feel like a true ‘Star Trek’ movie.”
The producers of Axanar are reportedly “perplexed” that CBS/Paramount are miffed, especially since (according to the FAQs on the Axanar website) theirs “is an independent project that uses the intellectual property of CBS under the provision that Axanar is totally non-commercial.”
Perplexed. Hunh. Whoodathunkit?
Well, I for one would, did, and definitely do thunkit. As you might have surmised, I like Star Trek. I’m not a hard-case Trekkie, but I have a lot of history with the franchise, and love that its fans have kept it alive all these decades. In this case, however, I do not side with the young rebels. I do not see them as “David” against the corporate “Goliath.”
Rather, I regard the producers of Axanar as thieves.
Strong words, perhaps, but I have strong reasons.
Fan fiction has a long tradition. It has been around for over a century, since well before our modern copyright laws were written and, for the most part, it has been ignored. The reason it’s been given a pass is because it’s generally harmless. A fan creates a short story based on a novel or TV show they like; they pass it around to their friends; no one makes any money from the work, and it reaches a very limited audience. No harm, no foul.
I’ve even seen fan fiction and fan art based on my own Fallen Cloud Saga. Like most others before me, I ignored it, too, because it was not going to materially damage my rights or my work.
But this turning of a blind eye does not make it legal. Regardless of the fact that fan fiction rarely harms the creator’s work and effort, all fan fiction is de facto copyright infringement.
I create a world, populate it with characters, and write stories about those characters in that world. It’s my creation, my intellectual property, and my copyright. If anyone takes my world, my characters, and/or my settings, and uses them to create a work of their own, that’s a derivative work, based directly on my creation. If they do so with my permission, there’s no wrong-doing, but if they create their work without my permission, that’s an infringement on my rights and my property.
Thus, the difference between friends sharing a fanfic short story of a Kirk/Rand tryst and this Axanar project is not a matter of whether an infringement has taken place; it’s merely a matter of scale.
Axanar’s producers say that theirs is a “totally non-commercial” project. So is most every piece of fan fiction. That’s not the issue. The issue is that, with $1M to throw around, Axanar will be purchasing goods, paying salaries, and creating a product that will be in direct competition (and possibly in contradiction) to the authorized, licensed products put out by CBS/Paramount. More to the point, their own FAQ page states that the main purpose of the project is to create something that “serves as a resume and calling card for our work in the industry.” In other words, they expect it to function as advertising that will materially benefit the producers.
But Axanar is using the universe, the species, the stories, and even the characters from Star Trek without permission, and whether or not they make Dollar One is irrelevant. You don’t have to make money on a project for it to infringe on the rights owned and controlled by another party.
Donald Trump got slapped for using a Neil Young song at a rally. Trump made no money off the use, but he did it without permission, and he did it in a way that really irked Neil Young. Result: cease and desist.
On the flip side, George Lucas isn’t really happy with what Disney has done with the Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but George can be snippish all the way to the bank, because he sold all rights to Disney. Result: shut up and watch the movie, George.
While I admire the passion of Axanar’s producers, they should have seen this coming. Even if they create the best ST movie of them all, it won’t change the fact that they’ve stolen someone else’s work as a basis for their own.
And I for one hope they lose their shirts.