Star Trek Owners, Axanar Want Directors Excluded From Copyright Case

By December 17, 2016
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The scheduled start of the copyright infringement trial against an “independent” Star Trek fan-film is now just weeks away, and both sides are fighting to knock out potential witnesses from participating in the trial – including Star Trek film reboot directors J.J. Abrams and Justin Lin.

CBS Studios and Paramount Pictures, which filed the lawsuit against Axanar Productions and its principal Alec Peters nearly a year ago, have asked the court to keep both Abrams and Lin out of the controversy, because they simply don’t have anything to add they’d be authorized to share.

“This testimony and related public statements of persons such as Lin and Abrams are not relevant because they are not copyright holders of the Star Trek works, nor are they employees of or authorized representatives of plaintiffs in this matter.

“Any expression of their personal opinions is not probative of any issue in this case, and given the lack of probative value, the possibility of prejudice far outweighs the value of any testimony or evidence regarding their statements or opinions.”

Axanar, which had raised more than $1.4 million to create the fan-film Star Trek: Axanar before drawing the lawsuit from the Star Trek studios, could likely ask to put both Abrams and Lin on the stand out of the belief the two support Axanar despite the opinion of their previous employer. Abrams told a crowd during a fan event supporting Star Trek: Beyond last May the lawsuit against Axanar was wrong, and that the litigation would “go away.”

Axanar later deposed both Lin and Abrams, although practically none of their statements during the questioning has been released to the public yet.

Allowing them to take the stand, CBS and Paramount lawyers say, could influence a jury unfairly, because it’s not up to Abrams or Lin how the copyrights are defended, as they don’t own them – CBS and Paramount do.

The studios also want to exclude any version of the Star Trek: Axanar script written after the lawsuit was filed in December 2015.

“Any versions of the script created after this litigation was filed (or any testimony regarding them) bear no relevance to plaintiffs’ claims for infringement because plaintiffs have not filed suit based on these scripts. Defendants could continue to prepare script ad infinitum, and such scrips would be irrelevant because they are not the subject of this lawsuit.”

Instead, CBS and Paramount are asking the court to only allow script versions up to the “locked” script Axanar claimed it had in November 2015, before the lawsuit was filed. Those scripts, the studios claim, infringe Star Trek’s copyrights by using characters, alien races, ships and more from the universe created by Gene Roddenberry.

The studios, however, aren’t the only sides in the lawsuit seeking to keep directors out of the courtroom. Axanar attorney Erin Ranahan wants to bar Christian Gossett – the man who directed one of two short productions Axanar produced, called Prelude to Axanar – claiming the filmmaker has a personal grudge against Axanar principal Alec Peters.

“Plaintiffs intend to offer the testimony of disgruntled director Christian Gossett in order to state, among other falsehoods, his non-legal opinion that defendants’ Prelude to Axanar infringes upon Star Trek intellectual property.”

“Such inflammatory testimony may tend to evoke an emotional bias against defendant Peters …”

Axanar also wants to keep how it spent more than $1.4 million of donor money away from the jury, because in their view, there was no profit to talk about, and because if the money wasn’t spent on making Star Trek: Axanar, it’s the fault of Paramount and CBS for suing them in the first place.

“Plaintiffs seek to introduce evidence of defendants’ interim financial information, and notes of and expenditures and costs at trial to distract from the actual issue in this case: copyright infringement.”

Although many of the expenditures in discussion were redacted, a previous error in the redaction process revealed that at least some of the money was spent on salaries and personal expenses by Peters and his girlfriend, including service to his car, travel, meals and more.

“Defendants do not object to plaintiffs introducing the amount of money defendants raised through their crowdfunding campaign. But how defendants allegedly spent that money – especially when plaintiffs’ lawsuit halted the production of the feature film – has absolutely no relevance to the issue of whether defendants infringed plaintiffs’ copyrights, or any other related issues.”

In the filings, Ranahan said Axanar had to spend a good portion of the funds to continue paying thousands of dollars of rent each month for a studio it created just outside Los Angeles. However, while Ranahan blames the lawsuit for halting the production, Axanar did that voluntarily – CBS and Paramount never sought an injunction against Axanar to halt the production, and because of that, Axanar could’ve indeed moved forward with the filming to complete the project.

The judge will rule on motions ahead of the trial, which is set to begin at the end of January. But first, the judge could cut some parts of the trial short as both sides wait to hear if he might grant one of them summary judgment. While Axanar has asked for the case to be thrown out completely, CBS and Paramount have simply asked the judge to rule that Axanar and Peters did indeed infringe on copyright, and allow the January trial to be about how much damages to award the studios because of that infringement.

The judge cancelled a hearing set for next week, and is expected to rule on the summary judgment motions sometime in the next few days.

h/t Jody Wheeler

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Michael Hinman

Michael Hinman

Managing Editor at GeekNation
Michael began what has become nearly 19 years of 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 out of New York City where he is the editor of a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in the Bronx.