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.
The 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.
Although 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.”
— Robert Meyer Burnett (@BurnettRM) November 17, 2016
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.
“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.”
Axanar 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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