CBS, Paramount After Every Penny ‘Star Trek: Axanar’ Raised

By November 18, 2016
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If there is any chance for the “independent” fan-film Star Trek: Axanar to be made, the people behind the production better hope the studios that own Star Trek don’t get what they are demanding in court.

peters-mug111716The two sides of the copyright infringement lawsuit against Axanar Productions and its principal Alec Peters exchanged motions for summary judgment on Wednesday, as expected, with hundreds of pages of documents suddenly becoming available for public consumption.

Among those documents were a series of answers David Grossman, the attorney representing CBS Studios Inc. and Paramount Pictures in the lawsuit, presented to Axanar attorneys just before Halloween. The documents, released by Axanar as part of its request for summary judgment in its favor, shared exactly what the two studios hope to collect from Axanar and Peters if they win.

And it’s everything.

Paramount has been able to determine that Mr. Peters raised approximately $1.5 million from donors in order to create Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar, and to engage in production activities related to the planned full-length independent Star Trek film, Star Trek: Axanar. It is unclear from Mr. Peters’ discovery responses and documents produced to date how much of those funds were used to pay himself, but Paramount is entitled to recover, as profits relating to the infringing activity, all of those funds, including the amounts paid to Mr. Peters, his girlfriend, and for his travel, gas, meals, tires and other personal expenses …”

CBS and Paramount are also seeking more. They also want statutory damages up to $150,000 per infraction, as well as attorney costs to this point, which could run into the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The production reportedly raised nearly $1.5 million to create Axanar, but to date have only created a short known as Prelude to Axanar, a second short known as the “Vulcan scene,” and have maintained long-term rental of a studio just outside of Los Angeles that cost upward of $15,000 per month.

vulcanship-inset111816Although key financial aspects from the CBS and Paramount filings were redacted, some observers realized early on they could actually circumvent the redactions simply by copying and pasting from the electronic files. Those redactions included more detail about how much money CBS and Paramount believe Axanar Productions spent, and where those funds went.

Axanar, according to CBS and Paramount, “raised over a million dollars” and “spent well over a million,” meaning few funds, if any, are left. The studios claim, based on financial reports they obtained from Axanar, that Peters paid himself a salary of $65,000. He also used donor funds, the studios claimed, on other personal expenses, like tens of thousands of dollars on meals for himself and others, two years of cell phone bills for his then girlfriend Diane Kingsbury, as well as announced Axanar director Robert Meyer Burnett.

Peters also used donor funds to buy gas for his Lexus each week, as well as gas for Kingsbury’s car, and whatever they might have picked up at the gas station’s convenience store. He also used donor money to pay for his personal car insurance, for service on his car, and even for new tires.

Peters also spent money on actors and crew for Prelude, but others who worked closely with him – like Free Enterprise director Burnett – admitted in a sworn deposition Peters was primarily looking to use Axanar as a way to “showcase his own ‘producing’ abilities in the hopes that he would be hired by CBS to ‘run Star Trek.'”

Burnett himself took to Twitter Thursday to defend the expenditures as “standard operating procedure on productions.”

GeekNation had previously opted to not release information that had been redacted, despite the production error from CBS and Paramount. However, once it was determined Axanar’s attorneys released a good portion of that information without redaction in its own filings, and weighing how it affects the interests of the public, a decision was made to move forward with reporting on those details.

jonathanzavin-mug111816Jonathan Zavin with Loeb & Loeb in New York, who is one of the lead attorneys representing CBS and Paramount, told GeekNation by email he was investigating what happened with the redactions.

“To the best of our knowledge, the redactions were done by a method that is commonly used. Apparently someone figured out how to strip redactions from this type of PDF document. This may create a problem for many legal filings. 

“We intend to file new redacted copies with the court, using a different method, which hopefully cannot be improperly accessed.”

Repeated attempts on Thursday and Friday to reach Axanar Productions through its spokesman went unanswered. However, Axanar posted what it called an “official release” on its primary Kickstarter page disputing the claims CBS and Paramount made in its filings.

It claims Peters has put in approximately $150,000 of his own money into Axanar over the past year, including paying the $15,000 monthly rent on the studio space for the past six months. It also claimed that Peters “has not kept a single dollar from the donor funds, either in salary or expense reimbursements.”

Axanar also said it was creating an “independent financial review committee” consisting of “industry professionals and donors” to “review the financials, and report back to the entire donor base.”

We believe that the report from this committee will give donors the confidence that the Axanar team spent the donor money wisely, and that Alec has not received any compensation or expense reimbursements.

Axanar also said in the release that it remained “committed to addressing the copyright concerns of CBS Studios and Paramount Pictures … in a way that allows us to tell the story of Axanar our fans and donors have supported.”

prelude-inset111816Axanar has sought a full summary judgment that would dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the claims made by CBS and Paramount are premature, that Prelude and the Vulcan scene short are not substantially similar to Star Trek, and that all of its usage is considered “fair use” under copyright law.

CBS and Paramount, in turn, have asked for a partial summary judgment, primarily to have the court rule Axanar and Peters have indeed infringed on its copyright, and to move forward with a trial solely to assess damages.

The judge in the case could make a decision on the motions Dec. 19. The trial is scheduled to start Jan. 31.

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Michael Hinman

Michael Hinman

Managing Editor at GeekNation
Michael has spent more than 18 years of his way-long journalism career in entertainment reporting as the founder of SyFy Portal, which would become Airlock Alpha after he sold the SyFy brand to NBC Universal. He's based in New York City.
  • MidwestDeveloper

    How was it determined that Axanar’s attorneys has made the same mistake as those from Loeb & Loeb? From what I’ve seen of the postings, it was Loeb & Loeb who made the mistake in the redactions.

  • Stargazer 100

    Care should be taken when examining claims in an ongoing legal case. Both sides are always going to interpret the facts in the manner that casts the other in the worst possible light. What’s worrying is the apparent negligence on the part of the plaintiffs’ legal team that allowed insecurely-redacted documents to be posted publicly. It’s possible that whoever released the unredacted information may have just given Axanar the win here. Judges take a very dim view of lawyers who dont take the rules of civil procedure seriously. While I doubt it will result in a summary judgment in total for the Defense, it would not be surprising if the Judge ruled that everything in the poorly-redacted sections was now excluded from consideration. That was an incredible blunder by the plaintiffs, and short-sighted on the part of whoever posted the unredacted info. Might even be illegal for circumventing a digital security measure and publicly distributing confidential information from a Federal court case. Not good.

    • Ziggy Sawdust

      My understanding is that the process they used to redact was secure on some devices but not others. It could easily be that the docs were simply redacted on devices where the information was successfully blocked. Anyway, the information revealed would not compromise the case in any way. At worst, it would embarrass Peters.

      • Stargazer 100

        It doesn’t matter if the information was material or not. If the information was from a confidential source, or relied on a confidential source, it was required to be kept confidential. This was just sloppy. Since the Defense’s documents were not able to be reverse-engineered the same way, the excuse the plaintiffs are offering is thin.

        • Yeah, it sucks. But it also happens. As I said, there is protocol in place for when something like this happens.

          You may want to review the protective order that deals with this case, specifically the section about inadvertent disclosure.

    • There is a reason, Stargazer, why we attribute information as it’s presented – for the exact reasons that you state, because it’s that particular side’s interpretation of those facts.

      The thing is that poorly redacted forms is not as uncommon as you think. In fact, there already is procedure in place in how to handle such information. Hell, there is even a COURT case that deals with such happenings – dating back to 1975, before even I was born.

      Courts do not award victory based on mistakes such as this. Especially since a vast majority of the information that was released was presented non-redacted by the defense. The defense, in its filings, released a number of answers to interrogatories, and they repeat the information that has been redacted.

      Other redactions were a bit silly. For example, a redacted section stated Peters was looking to portray Garth of Izar, and that Chang would be in it, and other characters – information that already was public knowledge, and even openly admitted by Axanar. It also stated the script used stardates and other Star Trek-related story devices – all redacted, by the way.

      This is a copyright case. It’s not the Pentagon Papers. 🙂

  • Ziggy Sawdust

    So Peters is claiming that the donor funds that he used were just some kind of reimbursement to himself? He donated $150k but then withdrew $65k once it became available via donation. Am I getting this correct?

    If so, then he could easily be on the hook for taxes on the additional $65k. If he loaned the corporation that $150k, then the $65k is just part of his return payment. But he claimed that the $150k was “spent”, not loaned, so any money he received from Axanar would considered taxable income and subject to I.R.S. investigation. There could also be some question regarding corporate embezzlement depending on the conditions under which he received that $65k.

  • Rand Johnson

    Sorry, I am tardy to the Party. Facebook suspended my acct again which will end tomorrow. What I see as a fact in the matter is that Alec Peters has indeed enriched himself at the expense of CBS IP and the Donors. The fact Alec never put the money in escrow to assure it would only be used to to make the film and evidence from court filing adds proof beyond and doubt Alec squandered it all away months ago. I am now sure of this as I was told personally, after trying to defend that Axanar wasn’t broke, by Alec Peters himself via Facebook messenger to never again speak of Axanar’s finances again. There is nothing left to make any kind of film. Alec Peters screwed every donor.