Now that CBS Studios Inc. and Paramount Pictures have settled their copyright infringement lawsuit against the creators of an “independent” Star Trek fan-film, what exactly will Axanar finally produce?
Alec Peters, the principal of Axanar Productions – both of whom were defendants in the lawsuit – shared some additional details of the settlement to his donors mailing list that was finalized early Friday morning. And yes, it includes actually producing some kind of Star Trek fan-film named Axanar.
“Axanar Productions can produce the story of Axanar, but not as a full-length motion picture feature. Instead we are limited (as all fan-films are now under the fan-film guidelines) to two 15-minute segments that can be distributed on YouTube, etc. We also have to stick to the guidelines regarding the use of the name ‘Star Trek’ in the title of the project, the use of an approved disclaimer, etc.”
Peters is referring to the guidelines CBS and Paramount issued last summer in the wake of the Axanar suit that put restrictions on fans making and distributing fan-films. On what once started as fans filming themselves pretending to be in Star Trek has turned almost into a cottage industry itself, with various fan-films looking to outdo each other in terms of celebrity names it can attract to participate, and how much it can raise from fans to make it.
Axanar was no exception, bringing in the likes of Star Trek: Enterprise‘s Gary Graham and Battlestar Galactica alums Richard Hatch and Kate Vernon. And with that, they also raised $1.4 million, according to court documents, with the promise to expand a “proof of concept” known as “the Vulcan scene” into a feature film called Star Trek: Axanar.
But new guidelines would ensure there would not be another Axanar – at least not using the Star Trek intellectual property. Besides the time limitations and the restriction from using “Star Trek” in the title as Peters referred to, fan-films also are limited to raise $50,000 per 15 minutes produced (capped at $100,000), all participants must be amateurs (meaning no one gets paid), and they can’t use anyone currently or previously involved in the official versions of Star Trek.
As part of the settlement deal, however, Axanar will have a chance to use two actors with previous Trek experience. Graham played Vulcan ambassador Soval in Enterprise while J.G. Hertzler played, among other characters, the one-eyed Gen. Martok in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Peters also revealed that despite the guidelines allowing him to raise money, the Axanar settlement forbids him from doing public fundraisers to generate more money for Axanar.
“Axanar Productions will not publicly fundraise for the production of these segments – that means no more Indiegogo or Kickstarter campaigns to support the production of the Axanar story – although private donations may be accepted.
“That may slow things down a bit, but we’re developing options that fall within the conditions of our settlement with CBS and Paramount, and promise to keep you informed when we’re ready to go.”
According to a document filed by both sides with the court, the settlement also requires both sides to pay for their own attorney costs. Axanar was represented pro bono by Chicago-based law firm Winston & Strawn. That means while Axanar did not accrue standard legal fees, they would likely be responsible for expenses occurred during the course of the lawsuit since it was filed in December 2015.
What’s still not clear is the fate of the production studio Axanar opened just outside Los Angeles seeded with donor money, or what other restrictions may have been placed on Axanar through the settlement agreement.
The copyright infringement trial was set to begin Jan. 31, and likely run through February. The court already had ruled against key aspects of Axanar’s defense, including claims that its use of Star Trek intellectual property was protected by copyright’s “fair use.” If a jury had found Axanar and Peters had indeed infringed on the CBS and Paramount copyrights, both could have been subject to actual damages, or statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringement.
Although settlement talks had taken place almost since the suit was filed, the reached settlement almost on the eve of trial was a bit of a surprise, since it happened some 13 months later. Although it’s not clear how much it may have affected settlement talks, the agreement did come on the heels of Judge R. Gary Klausner ordering Axanar financials to be made available to the public, according to AxaMonitor.
Even with a settlement, Peters did tell donors that it might be a little while before they start seeing some real progress toward the production actually starting to happen.
“According to the terms of the settlement agreement, there are still some legal details that require our immediate attention over the next 60 days. These aren’t major issues, but they are the first things we have to check off our list so we can get back into the business of making Axanar.
“Once these issues are resolved, we will begin adapting the script to the new format and begin the entire pre-production process once again from scratch to match the new format.”
As part of the settlement, Peters publicly declared he went too far when it came to his original feature film idea, sharing in a statement that Axanar “crossed boundaries acceptable to CBS and Paramount relating to copyright law.”
h/t Sandy Greenberg
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