‘Star Trek’ Crowdfunded Film’s Producers Sued by CBS, Paramount

Axanar Star Trek Movie Lawsuit
Courtesy of Star Trek Axanar Youtube

Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios have sued the makers of the upcoming crowdfunded “Star Trek” film “Axanar” for alleged copyright infringement.

Axanar Productions and Alec Peters have been named in the suit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles. The project raised $638,471 on Kickstarter and another $565,531 on Indiegogo.

The producers have asserted on their web site that “Axanar” uses the intellectual property of CBS under the provision that “Axanar” is totally non-commercial.

“That means we can never charge for anything featuring their marks or intellectual property and we will never sell the movie, DVD/Blu-ray copies, T-shirts or anything which uses CBS owned marks or intellectual property,” they note.

Paramount and CBS are alleging three claims of copyright infringement in the suit: “The Axanar Works infringe plaintiffs’ works by using innumerable copyrighted elements of ‘Star Trek,’ including its settings, characters, species and themes.”

The action alleges that producers of “Axanar” have “unabashedly” taken the CBS and Paramount intellectual property to “look and feel like a true ‘Star Trek’ movie.” Paramount and CBS are seeking  an injunction along with damages for direct, contributory and vicarious copyright infringement.

Peters told Variety he’s perplexed that Paramount and CBS had filed the suit since he’s pledged that it won’t be a money-making venture.

“All the money that’s been donated goes into the production and our goal is to do good for Star Trek,” he added. “We are huge fans. They are picking a fight with the wrong guys.”

The project’s web site says the film will go into production in January. The producers posted a short film “Prelude to Axanar” on YouTube as part of their fundraising efforts.

The production company describes “Axanar” as taking place 21 years before the events of the “Where no Man Has Gone Before” episode in the original “Star Trek” television series.

“‘Axanar’ is the story of Garth of Izar, the legendary Starfleet captain who is Captain Kirk’s hero. We met Garth in the third season TOS (‘The Original Series’) episode ‘Whom the Gods Destroy.’ Kirk called Garth the role model for all future Starfleet Officers. Garth charted more planets than any other Captain and was the hero of the Battle of Axanar, the story of which is required reading at the academy.”

The first “Star Trek” episode aired in 1966 and the series ran for three years. Four other TV series have aired and Paramount has released a dozen “Star Trek” movies with “Star Trek: Beyond” due out in July.

Paramount and CBS are represented by attorneys at Loeb & Loeb. The news was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

UPDATE — Alec Peters has issued a more detailed response:

This morning, I was greeted with news that our production company, Axanar Productions and I, personally, am being sued by CBS Studios, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation for copyright infringement of Star Trek.

First of all, I was disappointed to learn about this through an article in an industry trade. For several years, I’ve worked with a number of people at CBS on Star Trek-related projects, and I would have hoped those personal relationships would have warranted a phone call in advance of the filing of a legal complaint. Nevertheless, I know I speak for everyone at Axanar Productions when I say it is our hope that this can be worked out in a fair and amicable manner.

Axanar is a fan film. Fan films – whether related to Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Power Rangers, Batman or any other franchise – are labors of love that keep fans engaged, entertained, and keep favorite characters alive in the hearts of fans. Like other current fan films, AXANAR entered production based on a very long history and relationship between fandom and studios. We’re not doing anything new here.

Like all fan films, AXANAR is a love letter to a beloved franchise. For nearly 50 years, Star Trek’s devotees have been creating new Star Trek stories to share with fellow fans. That’s all we’re trying to do here.

Since the original Star Trek TV series, when the letter writing campaign by fans got NBC to greenlight a third season of Star Trek, fan support has been critical to the success of the franchise. It is the Star Trek fans themselves who are most affected here, for by suing Axanar Productions to stop making our movie and collect so-called damages, CBS and Paramount are suing the very people who have enthusiastically maintained the universe created by Gene Roddenberry so many years ago.

The fact that many of the fans involved with Axanar Productions are also industry professionals speaks volumes to the influence of Star Trek in the entertainment industry. Not surprisingly, these fans want to give something back. We’re very proud that the work we’ve done to date looks so good. That is also a reflection of the devotion of Star Trek’s fans.

Like everything related to Axanar Productions, we take this matter very seriously and remain open to discussing solutions with all parties that can be mutually beneficial

 

 

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  1. ankushnarula says:

    I’m a BIG Star Trek fan – and I also enjoy Star Trek fan fiction. I’m not defending CBS/Paramount – they have been rotten stewards of Star Trek recently. I’m also not a legal expert. But at a cursory glance things look shady.

    Axanar Productions, Inc is a business venture that is using Star Trek IP for direct and indirect commercial gain – regardless of how it’s been pitched to the fans and press. How will the defendants argue that this is “fair use” when many people (including Mr. Peters) are getting paid for their work on this project by a commercial entity (Axanar Productions, Inc) that is being capitalized by a derivative project??

    Put it another way. How is this any different from an established company raising funds from a bunch of new investors to use someone else’s IP to launch a new business??? As much as I loathe CBS/Paramount this is not fan fiction – or fair use for that matter.

  2. alhbundy says:

    While I agree with CBS, I have an idea. Why don’t they hire them to do Axanar for CBS.

  3. Mark says:

    I see so many comments here insulting Paramount and their movies. How rude! You want to use their property, while you call their movies dumb and stupid and poor. If I were Paramount, I would tell you to pack sand. You all sound like a bunch of spoiled brats that don’t want to play by the rules and are upset because somebody is making you.

  4. Scott Wilson says:

    >>producers of “Axanar” have “unabashedly” taken the CBS and Paramount intellectual property to “look and feel like a true ‘Star Trek’ movie.”<<

    Something that has apparently eluded Paramount for the past decade. If Paramount doesn't know how to make a true Star Trek movie, someone else should.

    • Mark Wood says:

      Sorry but they have made three. Your opinion of them doesn’t matter in the slightest, it carries literally no legal weight. And guess what, which two star trek films have sold the most tickets (not dollars in sales, but butts in seats), it’s 2009’s Star Trek 9most watched in original release in the US), and Into Darkness (the most watched in original release world wide). Certainly seems that a lot of people disagree with you, on what is real Trek.

  5. Trevor Baylis says:

    Generally no film makes ‘net profit’ and ‘all the money goes to the production’. So technically Axanar is just like any other film in that respect. Furthermore, some of the crowdfunding money seems to have gone into expanding a business to work on future projects. Which, is a business expansion for profit making ventures.
    “…and other Sci-Fi projects. (Robert Burnett and I have already acquired the rights to a fantastic book series by David Gerrold.)”
    (axanarproductions website) /ares-studios-launches/

    The problem with crowdfunding films is that it avoids due diligence tests and is open to abuse. Purporting to make a film that cannot be distributed due to copyright issues sounds very much like a Max Bialystock production!

    I am personally involved with a copyright dispute with Iron Sky producers for what I see as similar type activity!

  6. Daniel McClintock says:

    Ultimately I think the people behind Axanar are going to lose. As bloody as I think the fight will be, I think it will be a precedent-making legal case that will finally define the future of “fan films” — not just for Trek, but Star Wars and other beloved movies and TV shows. I think it will also define what is considered amateur and what is considered professional. I also believe this case has the potential of reaching the US Supreme Court. Paramount/CBS will ultimately win, but i feel it will come at the loss of a huge fan base who no longer trust that the optimistic ideals the past shows and movies laid forth will be guarded well. Paramount/CBS may win this battle, but may lose the war.

  7. JJ Abrams nearly ruined the Star Trek reboot franchise with the second movie. Into Darkness was a throw-away rehash of Wrath of Khan with new special effects. It depended too heavily on emotional reactions based on character development seen in previous films. There was no fully original plot. The previous films go where no man has gone before. Even JJs first one did that with the altered timeline. That was risk-taking and it worked. Time to move on.
    Are the franchise owners afraid the upstarts will create thought-provoking plots? That perhaps the characters in Axanar will have more life in them than the 2D cartoon automatons they are creating? This is more than a love letter to the franchise owners. It is a shot across the bow.
    However, now with Disney making a fortune with a soul-less version of Star Wars, can we expect anything different for Star Trek? Dumb it down, and get rich? Well, that won’t be Star Trek.

  8. TheGhost says:

    I have a simple Idea that could solve the issues. Have CBS/Paramount create a section in the new ALL Access stream site for both the official and fan productions. Let the crowd sourcing be for production values and CBS can make the choice on which fan productions to put online. CBS would determine the streaming fee to the all access. Both would profit and be the best of both worlds.

  9. Mark says:

    Why should Paramount let these producers make the movie at all? If you ask me, Hollywood has been very lenient letting fans make their own films when they really didn’t have to. Now these people, whether they are making money off it or not, are taking Paramount’s property and making a full length film with it. This can only devalue any thing Paramount wants to do with their property. What if Paramount wants to do a movie that takes place 15 years before the series? People will say, ‘oh, there’s already a movie about that time’. The bottom line is, it doesn’t belong to them. It’s not their property. If they are dumb enough to invest a million dollars using someone else’s property and then complain when that person says something about it, they are not very bright, IMO.

    • Bob says:

      ‘Let’ them make the movie? It’s called fair use, a legal doctrine with a 300 year history.

      • ebe51 says:

        Yes, and most people don’t understand what “fair use” actually is. Fan films, even if they are totally non-commercial and don’t make money, don’t qualify. (Commercial viability has nothing to do with it.) Most film studios let the issue slide, partially because it generates interest in the the official film properties, but that doesn’t mean that the fans aren’t infringing on someone else’s copyright.

  10. Time4this says:

    Simple resolution: Axanar licenses the IP from CBS/Paramount for $1.00. Then there is no fear of further violations (denies unlicensed precedent) and demonstrates goodwill on CBS/Paramount’s part.

    • patrissimo says:

      There is already plenty of unlicensed precedent – there was that fan TV show where they said “as long as you don’t make money, it’s OK”. So I don’t think precedent is the issue, I think they are bothered by this specific project. Whatever the reason (perhaps because it’s a $1.2M budget movie; and they are actively releasing new movies), they’ve decided it cross the line into being a threat. Which makes it much harder to resolve amicably.

  11. Rass says:

    The folks at Axanar, as well as all the rabid fanboys having hissy fits online about this, are showing a lack of understanding of how the U.S. legal system works. It’s a precedent-based system. It’s one thing to overlook fan films that make no money at all, but for CBS and Paramount to do nothing about a production that has brought in a million dollars would set a legal precedent, making it a lot easier in the future for other productions to make a case that they should be allowed to make money off unlicensed fan films as well. Basically, Paramount and CBS needed to do this in order to protect their IP. Once the money involved reached that level, they really didn’t have a choice in the matter, lest they’d endanger their ability to police copyright infringers in the future. That’s how the legal system works.

  12. nunya says:

    Its Laughable because I doubt CBS or Paramount knows what a real Star Trek Movie would look like. Definately not like the garbage they have been putting out since 2009. Way to pick on the real fans.

  13. Ashlyn Rose says:

    I agree. I watched the You Tube trailer. It is a blatant ripoff of the original Star Trek. story. I was also amazed and very curious how Peters managed to get many A-listed performers from the 80’s and 90’s to appear in the trailer. Most of the actors are well known and gone on to acclaimed roles.

    Furthermore to say it is a non-profit film is an outright lie. Peters knows the film will make money. The only ones loosing out are the fans, who give their hard earned money to him .

    • Jimbo says:

      Ashlyn Rose, you have absolutely no clue what you’re talking about.

    • Jimbo says:

      You have absolutely no clue what you’re talking about.

    • starbase63 says:

      “Blatant rip-off of the original Star Trek story”…really? Do you also say that about other Star Trek fan films?

      You really don’t know much about Axanar, do you? People like Richard Hatch are in it because they are friends with Alec Peters (in fact Hatch is Peters’ acting coach). JG Herzler has appeared as a number of characters in Star Trek. Gary Graham reprises his role of Ambassador Soval from the Enterprise series.

      The film can’t make money, that’s the rule. Every person who makes Star Trek fan films or runs a Trek fan site knows this.

    • WLAGuy says:

      How, do you think, they’d ever profit from this? After the backers get their copies as a reward for funding, it’ll be free to view online. If anything, it’s a money losing proposition if they don’t lease out the set facilities on a fairly daily basis.

  14. T. Ruth Teller says:

    This project has been mired in controversy since it started. The director of the short film, Prelude, is no longer associated with the project due to sketchy financial practices by Peters, and other backers have also questioned where all of the money is going. My guess is that Paramount caught wind of some of these allegations, and wanted to shut the whole thing down before they somehow got dragged into the mess. Variety should be investigating Peters and his associates, including Robert Meyer Burnett, who is now directing the feature and has been involved in other Star Trek projects. There’s more to the story than has been reported here or elsewhere.

    • patrissimo says:

      I would guess the “more” to your story is that you have a grudge against Alec, anonymous commenter. He has a great reputation, and if any of this were true then Paramount would be using it. They aren’t; they are simply claiming copyright infringement (which, sadly, it may well be).

  15. James says:

    Paramount is suing because what little we’ve seen is better than anything Bad Robot has produced. The question is, after allowing wen productions, around the world, of Star Trek since the earliest days of web production, can they stop this one, now? Trek has always survived because of the fanbase, damaging that could harm the franchise more than the last two films did.

    • cy12 (@cy12) says:

      Yes, but we live in a world where a small indie team can create something that looks just as good as a studio movie. But you can’t have 50 high-quality films such as this one, floating around on Youtube for free. It will devalue the IP. When the studio finally brings out their own official version, why would anyone pay for it? seeing as they’ve seen 50 other ones for free on Youtube. This is bad for the industry in general as it commodifies the product.

  16. cy12 (@cy12) says:

    The ‘producers’ want to raise their profile in the industry. Why don’t they create their own characters to do this? because of the publicity value in using StarTrek. Yes it does damage the property! think of 50 small indie teams producing 50 indie films such as this one and releasing them all on the web for free. What does that do to the IP? it devalues it in the market place, and devalues filmed entertainment in general, makes it into a commodity. Don’t these people want to work in the industry themselves?

    • Axanar is being made by people who were involved in the original productions. I’d like to believe they want to keep the original spirit of Star Trek alive, with an intelligent plot. Sadly, we see with the latest Star Wars, dumber pays.

      • officialmoviecult says:

        Correction… they work “around” Star Trek, not ON Star Trek. Alec was an archivist and the director makes a lot of “Making of” content. They were not on the creative side of any of Star Trek and the whole thing smells of disgruntled fans who got just shy of their shot at working on the property legitimately.

  17. Man-In-Hat says:

    There have been a lot of questions among fans about the financial transparency on Axanar, including accounting impropriety regarding the $1 million plus raised, and the producers expressing a desire to use that money to fund a “studio system” for fan-film creation. This case is more than just a couple of geeky fans slapping together a corny fan film.

  18. John OB says:

    “Peters told Variety he’s perplexed that Paramount and CBS had filed the suit since he’s pledged that it won’t be a money-making venture.”

    Perplexed? Then he’s a moron who doesn’t know that copyright infringement has NOTHING to do with monetary gain.

    • Jimbo says:

      He’s perplexed because CBS and Paramount have always have had a policy of allowing non-commercial use of their intellectual property. There are literally hundreds of these fan-made films and some of them are even professional quality. All of a sudden now they’re suing someone for copyright infringement? It goes against their own policy. CBS and Paramount are the ones who set the precedent here.

  19. zillabeast says:

    And now, the Axenar project is going to get more publicity than they ever dreamed of. Hearts will be stirred, emotions will boil over, and Paramount will be facing a P.R. disaster that can only be fixed by letting go of their own pride, and embracing the fan film. Of course, that never happens in Hollywood, so expect this story to have an unhappy ending.

  20. Doug Mayfield says:

    “The producers have asserted on their web site that “Axanar” uses the intellectual property of CBS under the provision that “Axanar” is totally non-commercial.”

    I’m not a lawyer but as I understand it, the producers are making a serious error because the violation of copyright occurs when they use someone else’s copyrighted property. Announcing that you have no commercial purpose does not protect you against an accusation of copyright infringement.

    Maybe their production is a misplaced attempt to generate publicity for themselves. Or perhaps they are die hard fans who couldn’t resist trying to create their own ‘Star Trek’ based story.

    But whatever their real purpose, I think their time and energy would be better spent on doing something of their very own, something truly original.

    • James says:

      Paramount has allowed this exact situation for about twenty years, fire a variety of not for profit web series set in the Trek universe, including one in which James Doohan’s son plays “Scotty.” It seems a bit late inn the game for them to do this. Given the irreverent they’ve set, I can’t imagine them winning, not without dealing a crippling blow ti a large segment of the fanbase.

  21. AJ says:

    It is likely that they are protecting their IP because they have a project in development that is about the same era/subject matter and the suit is to shut down the fan effort in order to not have it confuse the public when CBS launches their own series.

  22. Spider says:

    I understand the workings of intellectual property and that there are 2 sides to this issue, but I feel as though Paramount and CBS saw the final product and crapped themselves. They allege that the (producers of “Axanar” have “unabashedly” taken the CBS and Paramount intellectual property to “look and feel like a true ‘Star Trek’ movie.”). Could this be the true “Star Trek” flick that “Beyond” wishes it could be? ……Paramount should look to hire these guys to help launch the next pre-planned TV series, flick, etc…… In an age where YouTube and many other social media sites offer a platform for fans to exercise their creative freedom on their favorite characters and movies and everything else, I’m surprised these lawsuits are still being initiated. **There are so many fan made films, videos, pictures, sketches, etc all over social media*** Paramount/CBS need to work alongside these guys whom I feel, didn’t mean any harm.

    • Mark Wood says:

      Seriously are you on medication? Because there is no ‘final” product. They haven’t started production, they haven’t even cast yet. The only thing that its shot was a teaser on Vulcan of two actors shot on green screen walking and talking. And let me tell you that isn’t setting the creative world on fire.

      And seriously if these “guys” were so good, why is it that no one has hired them to work or develop a project? Wake up and smell the IP stealing Axanar coffee.

  23. DougW says:

    Wondering about the fan made shot for shot remake of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Paramount, which released “Raiders,” didn’t squash that. Maybe Lucasfilm wouldn’t let them or has all the rights. Or maybe they let it be as it was so low budget and was homage instead of new story material.

  24. There is an opportunity here.

    Yes, there needs to be a formal establishment of what’s right and wrong when you make a fan production of an established IP – how / what / if you can even make these films. Paramount and CBS have every right to protect their IP.

    Alec Peters has done a brilliant job of masterminding a film / merchandise in a grey area of IP ownership, and to his credit, he’s done an excellent job of preserving much of what the fans want to see. And in that effort, he’s taken some liberties with the understanding that he’s not breaking the law. But they (Axanar) offer badges, model kits, t-shirts and all sorts of incentive goodies that impact the licensing agreements already in place with money-generating partners for CBS and Paramount.

    Something needed to be done.

    This is an opportunity for CBS/Paramount and Axanar. Work together.

    1.) Axanar gives up everything to CBS/Paramount. Lock, stock and barrel.
    2.) CBS/Paramount working with Peters finishes the fan film.
    3.) ‘After Axana’ becomes the legal framework establishing that no fan-production may exceed X dollars or X views (or whatever framework that protects the IP). Let the fans create without impeding the rights of the IP owners.

    Finally –

    Promote the hell out of Axanar. Make it canon. Embrace it. And bring the fractured Star Trek community back together.

    My Two Bits

    D. Desjardins, lootcritter.com

  25. You know what screw CBS and Paramount. I will be actively encouraging my trekkie friends to boycott Star Trek Beyond. What a goddamn insult to the fanbase, we finally get to see some actually Star Trek and not some ginned up Star Wars in Star Trek’s clothing, and now they pull this. Face it folks CBS and Paramount hate the Star Trek franchise and are doing everything they can to homagenize and destroy anything that separated it from Star Trek, Marvel, or anything else.

  26. Bob says:

    Note there have actually been three crowdfunding efforts for Axanar. The first, a Kickstarter titled “Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar”, raised just over $100K in addition to the two drives mentioned herein.

    • Allen Wade says:

      Yes Sir Justin you are so right, If Paramount and CBS gave a rat’s ass about Star Trek fans they would have listened to them years ago, they are scared shit less that nobody want’s to see that JJ horse shit they want to call Star Trek, and all you others think about it, if they really gave a DAM about Trek you would see it on a national network broad cast, if they were so proud of it! Instead they gong to hid it on a streaming service along with all the other shit shows nobody gives a dam about! Hey CBS where is the story line, where are the casting reports, where are the trailers, you really want to get the fans behind you on this program?? No like Justin said you don’t give a dam and are scared to death, that these guys are producing something you can’t even do or want to do yourselves, I hope to hell it blows up in your dam faces and they laugh your ass right out of the court room!!!!

  27. Why not hire Alec Peters instead of spending a small fortune on a vindictive lawsuit? Buy the Ananar film and hire Peters, be constructive, and go from there. Negotiate w/someone who raised over a million dollars for a passion project, see what he’s got and consider a deal to bring him in on the franchise.

  28. John Miller says:

    So, CBS and Paramount, who’ve royally screwed up “Star Trek,” are waiting until the 11th hour to sue probably the only people who are actually keeping the spirit of “Trek” alive? Interesting strategy! :-P

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