Fresh off grossing more than $336 million worldwide from Star Trek Beyond, the two directors of Paramount Pictures’ rebooted Trek franchise may already know where they’re going next: to federal court.
At least if attorneys representing an embattled fan-film have anything to say about it.
Erin Ranahan, a California attorney representing Axanar Productions and its principal Alec Peters, wants Paramount to turn over Beyond director Justin Lin and Star Trek Into Darkness helmer J.J. Abrams to ask why a copyright infringement lawsuit against the Star Trek: Axanar fan-film is continuing despite their claims otherwise.
Abrams mentioned Axanar during a Beyond promotional event last May, chiding his studio bosses for taking what he said was a fan production to court.
“A few months back there was a fan movie, Axanar, that was getting made. And there was this, like, lawsuit that happened between the studio and fans … Justin was outraged by this as a longtime fan. We started talking about it and realized that this was not, you know, an appropriate way to deal with the fans. The fans should be celebrating this thing … we all, fans of Star Trek, are part of this world.
[Lin] went to the studio and pushed them to stop this lawsuit. And now, within the next few weeks, it will be announced this is going away.”
Paramount, along with Star Trek’s co-owner CBS Studios Inc., sued Axanar last December after it raised more than $1.5 million, using those funds to open a permanent studio outside Los Angeles, and paying salaries to various people involved in the production, including Peters himself. Axanar produced only a trailer and a video short featuring Star Trek: Enterprise actor Gary Graham before Paramount and CBS filed suit.
Immediately after Abrams shared the news that the lawsuit was “going away,” the studios announced it was continuing ongoing settlement talks with what it was calling a commercial Star Trek production, and that guidelines were being created for Trek fan-films moving forward.
A few days later, however, Axanar and Peters filed a countersuit, and more than four months later, the lawsuit has not gone away at all. Instead, both sides are in discovery, collecting evidence for a trial that is slated to begin in January.
Ranahan, however, wants a chance to review everything Abrams and Lin said to the studio about the lawsuit, complaining to the judge on the case late last week Paramount was blocking the path.
“[The studios'] documents and communications regarding fan-films, guidelines and particularly the statements made by [the studios'] own representatives J.J. Abrams and Justin Lin will demonstrate that [Axanar] recently believed – and actually were operating within – the enduring tradition of Star Trek-inspired works of fan-fiction, which have been long tolerated and encouraged by [the studios] since the inception of the Star Trek franchise.”
Paramount and CBS, which are seeking statutory damages of up to $150,000 per violation, or actual damages, say the statements by Abrams and Lin are irrelevant to the case. Neither are employees of Paramount, nor are they corporate spokesmen for the company.
Ranahan and Axanar also are demanding once again Paramount and CBS prove they own Star Trek, outside of the copyright registrations they hold for various Star Trek television shows and movies dating back 50 years. More specifically, she wants to see the copyright transfers from Trek creator Gene Roddenberry to the companies that were eventually absorbed by Paramount and CBS.
The studios, however, say it might be impossible to produce such a document, implying Roddenberry himself created the original Star Trek as a work-for-hire (and thus would automatically be owned by his employer).
“Ms. Ranahan does not explain what basis she has for assuming that Gene Roddenberry ever owned the rights to Star Trek.”
Ranahan has demanded a hearing on her complaints for Oct. 21 in Los Angeles, pending a judge’s approval.
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