In the wake of its copyright infringement lawsuit against an "independent" fan-film, CBS Corp. and Paramount Pictures for the first time have released fan-film guidelines. And they are expected to drastically change how fan-films move forward.
"Your support, enthusiasm and passion are the reasons that Star Trek has flourished for five decades, and will continue long into the future," the studios said in a statement at StarTrek.com. "You are the reason the original 'Star Trek' series was rescued and renewed in 1968, and the reason it has endured as an iconic and multi-generational phenomenon that has spawned seven television series and 13 movies.
"Throughout the years, many of you have expressed your love for the franchise through creative endeavors such as fan-films. So today, we want to show our appreciation by bringing fan-films back to their roots."
The guidelines, the studios say, are not intended to provide any type of license to fan-films. Instead, they are designed to help fans avoid objections from or even legal action from CBS and Paramount.
Among other things, the stories will now be limited to 15 minutes, or two connected 15-minute segments, with no additional episodes or seasons. Everyone involved must be amateur, meaning no one — not even actors — can be compensated.
And speaking of actors and other participants, they "cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures' licensees." That means the use of actors like Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols on an upcoming "Star Trek: Renegades" production could be prohibited, as well as Robert Meyer Burnett, who has worked for the studios in the past doing extras for Star Trek DVDs, also would be precluded from being involved in "Star Trek: Axanar."
It was "Axanar," in fact, that seems to have forced the hand of CBS and Paramount to move forward on these guidelines. Last December, the studios sued Axanar Productions and its principal Alec Peters for copyright infringement after that production raised some $1.3 million for a feature-film, provided merchandise as part of donation perks, and admitted to paying Peters himself at least $38,000 from fan donations for his work.
During a fan event in May celebrating the release of the official full trailer for "Star Trek: Beyond," producer J.J. Abrams lashed out at Paramount for being involved in the Axanar lawsuit in the first place, announcing that the suit would "go away." Immediately after that event, the studios released a joint statement saying it was in settlement talks with Axanar, and that it would soon release fan-film guidelines.
Peters worked to create fan-film guidelines of his own to provide unsolicited help to the studios, even asking some of the major Star Trek fan-film producers to participate. Only a few did, and the guidelines they created differ significantly from what CBS and Paramount eventually released.
That includes a major stipulation on fundraising. The Axanar proposed rules actually axed out any limitations on crowdfunding, but the studios instead have limited all fundraising to $50,000, including all platform fees. The fan-films also can only be distributed on streaming services like YouTube without any ad revenue generated, and not on DVD or Blu-rays. Also, fundraising cannot include any perks, including props from the production.
Even the props and uniforms can't be fan-created. They must be officially licensed merchandise.
The biggest question at the moment is how these rules will affect fan-films already in production. "Renegades," for example, is filming right now in Burbank. "Star Trek Continues" recently released a new episode, and has another in post-production. James Cawley announced last month he was shutting down "Star Trek: New Voyages."
1701News has reached out to all three productions seeking comment, which is pending return. A spokesperson for CBS couldn't comment on whether existing fan productions would be grandfathered in, but said those questions could be answered in an official podcast John Van Citters from CBS is participating in next Wednesday on StarTrek.com discussing the new fan-film guidelines.
A comment request from "Axanar" also is pending return, although the project's announced director, Burnett, tweeted soon after the fan-film guidelines released that these new rules were "draconian."
CBS announced just announced STAR TREK fan film guidelines so draconian I can longer work on my own film. https://t.co/bIg40XL4Ve
— Robert Meyer Burnett (@BurnettRM) June 23, 2016
"The heart of these fan-films has always been about expressing one's love and passion for Star Trek," the studios said in the joint statement. "They have been about fan creativity and sharing unique stories with other fans to show admiration for the TV shows and movies. These films are a labor of love for any fan with desire, imagination and a camera.
"We want to support this innovation and encourage celebrations of this beloved cultural phenomenon."
Need to catch up on the "Star Trek: Axanar" copyright infringement lawsuit? Visit our easy-reference guide to all of 1701News' coverage and commentaries by clicking here.
About the Author
Michael Hinman is the founder and editor-in-chief for 1701News, Airlock Alpha and the entire GenreNexus. He owns Nexus Media Group Inc., the parent corporation of the GenreNexus, and a co-founder of 1701News. He lives in Tampa, Fla.Email author