Speaks for itself.

Speaks for itself.

I tried way too hard to get a Star Trek joke in that title. Way too hard.

Fan films have existed since before the internet. Kids would make something remotely resembling the costumes and make their own little film for fun or to hone their skills; either way drawn by their love of a particular show, comic, game, or movie. Nowadays, where clothing patterns are easy to make and programs like After Effects have allowed people to up their game while the internet has given a home to fan productions (ranging from fanfic to fan comics to fan films), there’s a larger presence of programs as good or better than the original.

Star Trek is no stranger to this. Fans have gone so far as to recreate the original Enterprise set from the 1960s in full detail as well as replicating props and costumes. Here at BW Media Spotlight I’ve promoted a few of them as part of Saturday Night Showcase (formerly Saturday Night Theater before I added online comics). While a couple of shows have continued the original series, some have also created new shows set in that universe, which frankly I prefer. It lets the old shows be its own thing as well as the new shows, like Starship Farragut, or Intrepid, which actually takes place during the future time period of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. This is true with other shows and other media formats.

Now I do understand the point of view of the studios, in this case Paramount and CBS. It’s not a dead license by any means. Even when TV took a break the officially licensed comics were still going, and now they have a new movie franchise and I’ve heard talk of a new TV series. (I don’t know if it’s set in the TV or new movie continuity, though.) And while New Voyages/Phase 2 has gotten the approval of Gene Roddenberry’s son as well as the actual performers and prop makers taking part, and Lou Schimer aided in the animated episodes of the usually live-action Farragut, none of them hold the rights, but their also not seeing a penny. (Neither are the fan film makers, mind you.) But it’s a more recent incident that has caused CBS to break out official rules for creating a Star Trek fan film. And while some of them are actually understandable there are a few that will indeed negatively impact the community…as well as setting a bad precedent for all fan productions, including fanfic, fan comics, and fan art.

After all, if Paramount is setting up guidelines for how to keep being sued that are a bit strict, what is stopping other studios? It’s one thing for studios to worry about their property being given a black spot by some fan production…or porn parodies really. However, I have yet to see a fan film that has made the show look bad and nothing is stopping Paramount from creating a new series or continuing the new movie universe started by J.J. Abrams. There are fans that feel this is the only way to see their favored timeline, and most of them by rights are not trying to make any money off of the work, obeying the law since this isn’t quite under fair use. It’s one thing to review or parody something but this is outright using someone else’s IP, and while the Star Trek Universe is vast enough that following a ship not captained by James T. Kirk is possible it’s still not their concept any more than Transformers or Doctor Who productions.

That said, fan productions are not biting into their profits because they aren’t making these kinds of stories and fans would still happily watch an official Star Trek series as long as it’s good, and some would probably still watch if it was bad and complain on social media. While I’m all in favor of protecting their IP, especially one of their biggest cash sources which keep them in business even when something flops, do some of these rules push the line? Before we look at them we need to discuss what caused this:

Star Trek: Axanar doesn’t resemble the original show, but is, as it promotes itself, “the first fully-professional, independent Star Trek film”, is a story that takes place during the Federation’s war with the Klingons and Kirk’s canon fallen hero, Garth of Izar (seen in the episode “Whom Gods Destroy“). The movie looks like a major film production, or at least a low-budget one, and features celebrities like Richard Hatch and Gary Graham. It is a fully crowdfunded production but I doubt everybody attached is working for free unless they realllly love the franchise. And this is what has CBS up in arms because unless all of the money is going into the movie this just became a profit production. The question is whether the rules go too far. In addition to the guidelines link earlier I’m also using the official podcast’s interview with John Van Citters, recorded on June 29th of this year (episode 5 if you need to hunt through the archives), who works in the licensing department for Star Trek.

Guidelines for Avoiding Objections:

  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.

Already we have a problem. You’re telling fans not to make a full-length episode or feature-length movie. How do you tell a full Star Trek story, a series that was (with commercials) an hour-long, or a half-hour animated? That’s not a movie or episode, that’s a short subject. The point of these projects is to recreate something they love and now they’re being asked to stuff it into a short package. If they aren’t making money on it (the concern with Axanar and probably other crowdfunded works whether or not all of the money goes into the production without pay for the cast and crew) I’m not understanding why they have to force the fans to drop a big part of their project. It CAN be done and done well, but that’s not what the unpaid fans signed on for.

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.

Part of this is a nitpick but on the whole I don’t have a problem with this. Why use plain typeface? On the other hand, making sure people know this is a fan production (although that frankly should be obvious to anyone who would care enough to watch this) makes perfect sense.

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.

Another good idea. Once you use official clips you do skirt that tribute line a bit. Fans usually use CG ships anyway (similar to what Paramount themselves did when they released a redone effects version of the original show) so I don’t think this would be a problem. In fact they were doing that before Paramount did with their re-release.

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.

In other words unless you DIYed your own phaser it better be an officially produced replica and not a knockoff. This comes from the marketing department I believe, and it makes sense. I got my own phaser replica at a convention, but it’s the official Art Asylum release. I even reviewed it once.  I got it at a bargain since they didn’t want to drag them all back home (buying on the last day of the con if you don’t mind risking them selling out isn’t a bad idea) but this might not be the best option on a no-budget production. However, I completely get where they’re coming from and supporting knockoffs is only okay when there is no official option. And even then it’s still kind of iffy, and this is from a guy who owns knockoff Transformers and other transforming robot toys we’ll never get stateside.

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.

James Cawley as Kirk in Star Trek: Phase II.

James Cawley as Kirk in Star Trek: Phase II. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is why Axanar‘s production team feels they’re being targeted. Gary Graham, for example, had a recurring role on Star Trek: Enterprise. This would also be trouble for something like New Voyages, who has used official actors and prop makers, none of which were compensated to my knowledge but just loved doing Star Trek so much that they were willing to do it for free. Not to mention Tim Tuvoy (Tuvok on Voyager and I think one of the original movies) producing Of Gods And Men, a film starring many previous actors and using Charlie X to create an alternate timeline for Uhura and Checkov (both played by their original actors).

This once I’m not a fan of. While the “cannot be compensated for their services” does indeed make it a fan production why does having worked on the show previous mean they can’t do fan works? Are you planning to hire them again? Are they being paid for this production? It seems a bit harsh telling previous actors or even DVD box art designers that you will never work on a Star Trek production again…you know, unless they were fired for a good reason or something.

However, I did learn something in that podcast; that fans have been scrambling to get official people in their production, possibly for either bragging rights or to make their work “feel” official even though it isn’t. You can blame New Voyages for that, as they started the trend, which is rare for ANY fan film series of any IP. Star Trek Continues can only boast having a former Mythbuster as Mr. Spock while the animated version of Starship Farragut picked up James Doohan’s son to pick up his late father’s character for an admittedly unnecessary cameo for Mr. Scott and Lou Schimer actually voicing a character. Citters compared it to an “arms race” and said that it has made it harder for new fans to get their film enjoyed because they don’t have the official people, or at the very least that’s how they feel. That sucks and fans can be jerks as much as anyone else, but if they want to work on the film I don’t see “we worked on the official” as a bad point. It’s wrong on the community’s part to shun anyone who doesn’t have an official person involved and they can still have good stories but why hurt an artist who is doing this for free?

6. The fan production must be non-commercial:

We’re going to take the subrules one at a time.

  • 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.

Possibly another shot at Axanar, which made $1,313,434 between two Kickstarters and an Indiegogo campaign, and is seeking another million to finish. I’m not sure this is unreasonable but having never made or worked on a fan film I couldn’t tell you if $50,000 is enough or not.

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

I have no problem with this.

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

Why not? If the production doesn’t mind footing the entire bill (except maybe shipping) I don’t see a problem. However, I have only seen sites offering a DVD version that the fans have to download and burn on a DVD themselves, even including box art to print them out. I’m not sure if that counts. My only problem with that is you have a DVD with only one episode on it, when most DVDs have at least four.

  • 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.

Again, makes perfect sense. If it’s a parody or review that’s one thing because fair use legally comes into play. The point is to poke fun or comment on the production with no possible way of accusing it of being official. This is original IP used solely to create a product that might be mistaken for official (although again only fans would be watching it anyway and would know it wasn’t a Paramount production since fans usually say so in the credits) and they aren’t allowed to profit. Even the aforementioned parody and review are only okay because of the law, and there are still guidelines for 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.
  • The fan production cannot derive revenue by selling or licensing fan-created production sets, props or costumes.

In other words you don’t get one of the phaser replicas, DIY or official, for supporting the project. You get at best early access and a signed photograph or something. Again, no profit means NO profit. You do this for the love or you don’t do it at all.

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.

This is protecting the brand, but considering how parody can be misused (pornographers have been slapping “parody” on their works to protect themselves while doing porn versions of popular things…like a porno version of Asylum Films or something only somehow more blatant) I wonder how well they can defend this in court. Hey, if the porn parody movement could be damaged by this I’m all for it but I wonder what will happen if this kind of lawsuit ever goes to court.

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.”

Frankly I’ve seen them all post something like this in their production anyway. It’s been kind of a thing by fan film, art, and comic creators, and even some fanfic writers have been adding this to protect themselves should they be next. Still, protecting the brand, in favor, next?

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

It’s an original story but using non-original concepts and continuity. I’m fine with this and it’s kind of a jerk move to do so anyway. Are they worried another fan production will use this? The only defense I can see is if they want to protect their work from bigger production companies who will use their work in their stuff without permission, and yes this hypocrisy has happened in other media. An officially licensed T-Shirt using someone else’s deviantART posting or non-royalty-free works showing up in a trailer or something has occurred.

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

That’s kind of redundant, isn’t it?

So I’m mixed on this guidelines. Some I understand and some I think restrict fans from what they want to make, while others I support and if fan filmmakers weren’t already following them they should have just out of respect for the license holders. Some of these fan films came out while comics and novels were the only way fans could see stories set in this universe, or directly with characters they love, although with new actors. While I am on fan creators side in part, I also have to look at CBS’s position of protecting the brand and not wanting fan productions to be mistaken for official works. I do hope CBS refines these rules over time in order to let fans create the show they want with only restrictions that protect the brand but preserve the fan experience. And maybe consider giving some of these “expanded universe” shows (there are quite a few using their own ships and characters) a shot at being official web series in light of internet-exclusive programming thanks to Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu. They’ve already shown what they can do with a pocket-change budget and their own fan-love.

About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

4 responses »

  1. Sean says:

    Interesting analysis. Companies do whatever they can to protect their intellectual properties. I have a question from something I read in the article: what is Deviant Art?

    Like

  2. […] made numerous Trek documentaries and was the director on the infamous Axanar fan film that led to the overly strict fan film rules. It’s just short of two hours long (including some last minute comments by the main […]

    Like

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