CBS Sues To Block Axanar Trek Movie

"THe Cage" -- Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Pike. Leonard Nimoy as Spock.

“The Cage” — Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Pike. Leonard Nimoy as Spock.

Too much of a good thing? Paramount and CBS have filed a copyright infringement suit against Alec Peters and others involved in making Axanar, a fan-produced Star Trek movie project that raised more than $1 million on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

Paramount has tolerated other elaborate fan productions over the years, such as the crowdfunded fan films Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, which received $150,000 in donations in 2006 and Star Trek: Renegades, which raised $375,000 in 2014. It may be that Axanar’s budget, or CBS being on the verge of launching its new TV franchise, caused the companies to pull the trigger.

Paramount and CBS gave this joint statement to The Hollywood Reporter:

Star Trek is a treasured franchise in which CBS and Paramount continue to produce new original content for its large universe of fans. The producers of Axanar are making a Star Trek picture they describe themselves as a fully-professional independent Star Trek film. Their activity clearly violates our Star Trek copyrights, which, of course, we will continue to vigorously protect.

The suit asks for statutory damages of up to $150,000 for each separate Star Trek copyrighted work infringed, or actual damages as proved, plus attorneys fees and costs. The suit also asks the court to enjoin Peters and the other defendants from activities that infringe on the Star Trek copyrights.

Alec Peters told The Wrap in August that he and his team had just met with CBS “but the network didn’t offer any specific guidelines concerning what his crew can and cannot do — the network simply told him that they can’t make money off the project.”

“CBS has a long history of accepting fan films,” Peters said. “I think ‘Axanar’ has become so popular that CBS realizes that we’re just making their brand that much better.”

Part of the immediate fan reaction to the lawsuit has been a Support Axanar Petition at Change.org.

28 thoughts on “CBS Sues To Block Axanar Trek Movie

  1. It’s one thing to tolerate amateur projects (something, to be fair to Paramount, Lucasfilms never did, to the point of demanding people entering its annual Star Wars fan movie contest hand over copyright in return for using its characters), quite another when it’s a semi-pro enterprise which might actually turn a profit).

  2. Ouch. I liked Prelude to Axanar quite a bit. But, I’m looking around at their sites and in my legally non-expert opinion, they said things they shouldn’t have and probably pushed too far in commercialization.

    Looking at their Indiegogo site, where they are talking about money issues:

    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/axanar#/

    They say:

    “EVERYTHING costs more when you are a professional production and not a fan film. All of this and more is explained, along with our budget of how we spent the money in the Axanar Annual Report.”

    And in the annual report they say:

    http://www.axanarproductions.com/axanar-annual-report/

    “Please note that we are a professional production and thus RUN like a professional production. That means our full time employees get paid. Not much honestly, but everyone has bills to pay and if you work full time for Axanar, you get paid.

    Also, no other fan film has production insurance like we do. We pay $ 12,000 a year for that. Again, a professional production.”

    I wonder if the production insurance will be of use to them here?

    There are also a lot of other things they’re doing, like having custom patches in donation perks that made me wonder a bit. That would seem like selling themed merchandise to me, but is that already common with fan films?

    Is it common to use Kickstarter and Indiegogo? Those companies make money off the donations for the movie, whatever the film makers themselves do.

    *sigh* It will be very interesting to see how this plays out. I expect things will get tougher for fan films, but hopefully it will just be more of a limitation on ones that get too commercial and too big rather than fan films in general.

  3. @Stobor: There’s also the fact that some of the Indigogo/Kickstarter funds went towards building their own studio space, which apparently would/will be used for future non-Axanar films. At that point, it’s hard to claim that you’re not profiting from the production, since it basically paid for your film studio.

    Oh, and it probably didn’t help that the director did interviews complaining about the 2009 film.

  4. I don’t understand how those quotes in the linked article from The Wrap didn’t set off huge alarm bells for everyone involved. There’s Peters saying what he claims is CBS’s position, basically “They’re cool with it as long as we’re not making a profit”… and there’s a direct quote from someone who actually works from CBS, saying basically “We did not tell them we’re OK with this in any way, and we’re considering further action to stop such things.” That’s four months ago, and Peters said he hadn’t even communicated at all with CBS until a week before that? And no one in his group, or among his backers, said “Whoa now are you sure you know what you’re doing?” How could anyone be the least bit surprised by the lawsuit now?

  5. For that matter, I don’t get how the author of the Wrap piece could so uncritically accept Peters’ claims while at the same time printing a quote that contradicts them. It keeps talking about how CBS is turning a blind eye to this fan production. CBS guy, in the same article, says they are not cool with it. I think there was some heavy-duty rationalization going on there by both the reporter and the Axanar backers, to convince themselves that “not licensed or sanctioned in any way” really had an implied footnote of “wink wink, it’s OK”, and that the part about considering legal action wasn’t about Axanar, even though that’s what the reporter had asked about, because they used the word “commercial” so they really meant unspecified for-profit ventures that weren’t Axanar. That’s the thought process of a clever kid trying to parse Mom’s rules in the most lenient way possible– not so good for someone who’s about to spend a million dollars of other people’s money.

  6. @John: Money towards non project specific studio space? Wonderful!

    And here’s something else: They have their own model kits. From:

    http://modelgeek.kitmaker.net/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=18409

    Discussing an Axanar specific model kit USS Ares, NCC-1650, it says:

    ‘”The hitch is that you can’t get it through the usual channels; it’s only available from the donor store at the Axanar website, which you can get access to if you donate $10 or more. The kit, which just became available today (12/29/2014), costs $84.95, plus $10 shipping in the US.”‘

    A “donor store.” Right. Here’s a link to a construction video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAVOsCd7WcY

    Significant work went into developing that model. You might call it “professional.”

    This is making me actively angry. This feels like a group that just had to push things too far, forcing the lawyers to take notice, but it almost certainly will have a chilling effect on other ST fan film makers, and may have effects on fan works beyond that.

  7. There’s no doubt that CBS is legally in the right – and it doesn’t really matter that Axanar was going to make a profit or employees were getting paid. Even if they were doing the entire thing with volunteers and not charging a dime, CBS would have the legal right to put a stop to it.

    But even though CBS is legally in the right, imo that’s just an example of how our copyright laws should be changed. Star Trek was created a half century ago; no good purpose is served by keeping it out of the public domain at this point.

  8. Barry Deutsch.

    Star Trek was created a half century ago; no good purpose is served by keeping it out of the public domain at this point.

    When you say “no good purpose is served by keeping it out of the public domain,” what is your idea of a good purpose. You mention Axanar trying to make a little money off this property and pay a few people — won’t CBS and Paramount be providing a lot more jobs and stimulating the economy far more?

  9. 1) I wouldn’t assume that CBS and Paramount would only make a Star Trek TV show if they can have exclusive rights to the Star Trek universe. There are lots of TV shows and movies based on works in the public domain (recent and off the top of my head: Into The Woods, Once Upon A Time, Grimm, Frozen, the BBC’s Fairy Tale, Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock, and Elementary).

    (And by the way – consider that there are two simultaneous hit TV shows based on Sherlock Holmes. That’s good for everyone. If copyright laws didn’t get in the way, why couldn’t there be two simultaneous takes on the Star Trek universe at the same time?)

    Studios go where the money is. They’re clearly willing to make works based on public domain properties when doing so is profitable. There’s no reason to suppose that Star Trek would stop being profitable if Star Trek was public domain.

    2) But even if Paramount and CBS decided not to make a new Star Trek series, that just means they’d be making something else instead. Some TV show didn’t get picked up because room in the budget and schedule has been made for Star Trek. So from an stimulus-and-jobs perspective, it’s pretty much a wash.

    3) In this way, I’m a libertarian: I believe in a free market for old intellectual properties. If CBS can make a better Star Trek show than Axanar – and they should be able to, given their budget – then the market will reward them for that. If despite their huge advantages, they can’t withstand competition from Axanar, then both the fans and the market would be better served by having Axanar’s product available.

    4) By “good purpose,” I meant encouraging the making of new creative and intellectual works. Insofar as copyright makes it possible for creators to earn a living, giving them incentives to make movies and comics and books and spaceship model kits and so on, then copyright is serving a good purpose.

    But none of that is happening with Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry is dead and will not be creating any new works. CBS has a profit motive and a TV schedule to fill and stockholders to placate, and will be creating new TV shows regardless of what happens with Star Trek’s copyright.

    Instead, at this point, the copyright for Star Trek is being used to create disincentives – to make people like the folks running Axanar shut up and not create what they want to create. That’s not good for anyone, except maybe CBS’s stockholders.

  10. Thanks, Rose!

    Copying my post word-for-word while stealing the credit would be plagiarism, not fanfic.

    Axanar wasn’t taking creative work done by CBS and doing nothing but changing the credits. They were doing the work part themselves, not merely copying work that had already been done by someone else; and they were acknowledging that their work was based on the Star Trek universe originally created by Gene Roddenberry.

    People have written fanfic based on my comics. I’ve never minded that – and I wouldn’t mind if they made money off of it. But in my case, at least you can argue that the copyright system is giving me an incentive to create more comics. As I pointed out earlier, the same can’t be said for the creator of Star Trek.

  11. Pingback: Paramount and CBS Sue To Stop A Fan-Made Star Trek Movie | Alas, a Blog

  12. @Reziac: I suspect Paramount does not want to set the precedent that you can get a payday by starting a large copyright-infringing production and waiting for Paramount to buy you out. 🙂

  13. If the issue is whether or not they make a profit, Axanar just needs to find a former studio accountant who knows how to do “Hollywood Accounting”. Their film could be a blockbuster, and still show a loss on the books.

  14. @Barry,
    The thing is, why should you get to decide whether copying your old material (and it is old, in internet terms) is plagiarism or fanfic? Why not let the market decide who’s right, the way you say it should be done for Star Trek?

    If you’re drawing arbitrary lines between “My material is new enough to not copy, and your material isn’t”, why choose a date that’s convenient to these “fan producers”, and not to me?

  15. @Rose:

    Regarding “arbitrary lines”:

    Any copyright law will include a somewhat arbitrary line between what is legal and what isn’t. That’s not unique to what I’m proposing; it’s inherent to all intellectual property law, including the status quo you seem to be defending. Since we’re able to survive having a somewhat arbitrary and fuzzy legal line in the status quo, why should that be a dealkiller for any suggested revisions to current law?

    Hey, isn’t the line between 65mph and 66mph arbitrary? It’s not like the driver going 65mph is substantially any safer, or any less likely to get into an accident, than the same driver at 66mph. But just because the precise placement of the line is inherently a bit arbitrary isn’t a reason not to have a law, and it’s certainly not a good argument against changing what the current speed limit is.

    The line between influence and plagiarism is a little bit fuzzy – but pragmatically, it doesn’t seem like courts have had a great deal of difficulty telling the difference. Nothing about what I’m suggesting would change that.

    why choose a date that’s convenient to these “fan producers”, and not to me?

    Unless you’re opposed to having a public domain at all, there has to be some date at which works are old enough so that the public is allowed to use things. Certainly, corporations – the “me” in your question – would prefer that copyrights never, ever run out.

    But the rational for copyright laws, set out in the US Constitution (and other places), isn’t to enrich corporations. It’s to benefit the public, by creating the conditions for a lively and active arts. So it does matter that artists be able to make a living, because otherwise artists will have to quit making art (writing novels, writing songs, etc) and go to work in the shoe factory, and then the public won’t have much new art to enjoy. Insofar as copyright law gives artists incentives to create new work that the public enjoys, copyright law is justified by the benefit it provides the public.

    That’s the reason for having a time limit after which works fall into the public domain. Once the length of intellectual property is so long that it’s beyond what artists need to be able to make a living making new work, then it’s no longer about benefiting the public, and is instead about enriching artists – or, in the case of corporate-owned works, corporations – at the public’s expense. And that’s not supposed to be what copyright law is for.

    (The public pays in two ways. First, in a noneconomic way – the public loses out because works that the public might have enjoyed are being chilled or directly censored. And secondly, the costs of running the court system that enables corporations like CBS to enforce their copyrights are paid for by our taxes.)

    The thing is, why should you get to decide whether copying your old material (and it is old, in internet terms) is plagiarism or fanfic?

    I’m not saying I should be the decider; I’m saying that the laws should be changed to maximize creative freedom as much as possible while still giving artists a financial incentive to create new work. Advocating a change in the laws isn’t the same as saying “I should be the decider!”

    If you really think that we should have current works available for people to make art from, I’m totally open to that idea! The more freedom people have to make and share creative works, the better. But I do think the public benefits when artists have an economic incentive to keep on creating new work. One way to thread this needle would be “compulsory licensing.”

    If we had compulsory licensing for fictional narratives (like my comics and like Star Trek), CBS wouldn’t be able to prevent folks from making their own Star Trek films, but the makers of the new Trek films would have to pay CBS a royalty. Similarly, I wouldn’t have a legal right to prevent you from creating new works based on my characters – but again, you’d have to pay me a royalty.

    (Compulsory licensing isn’t something I just made up; it’s an already-existing feature of US copyright law for music that isn’t part of a musical or opera. I’m just suggesting it could be expanded to include works like Star Trek, and like my own comics.)

    Look at those 20- and 10- year gaps between Star Trek TV shows. Wouldn’t it have been good if someone could have filled those gaps, and made new Trek shows, rather than having decades-long gaps?

  16. Setting aside the question of what the laws should be, it’s pretty clear that Axanar knew what they were doing when they proceeded on what can fairly obviously be seen as a money-making venture using someone else’s intellectual property and they went ahead anyway. Obviously, CBS feels that there should be some leeway in these laws, much as you do, but it seems like Axanar went well past whatever leeway CBS was willing to grant. I don’t have much patience for their antics, especially when it could mean that legitimate fan productions may suffer.

  17. Look at those 20- and 10- year gaps between Star Trek TV shows. Wouldn’t it have been good if someone could have filled those gaps, and made new Trek shows, rather than having decades-long gaps?

    Dear god, no.

    Why don’t those people just make something new? After all, that’s how we got STAR WARS, because Lucas couldn’t get the rights to FLASH GORDON.

    I agree that copyright lasts too long. I wouldn’t stump for the bar to be placed early enough to put STAR TREK in the public domain, but I’d rack it back to something shorter than it currently is.

    But I hate the idea of compulsory licensing, even for the music industry. DC’s been after me for years to approve Astro City/DC Universe crossovers. With compulsory licensing, all they’d have to do is pay me, which they’d be happy to do. Heck, all they’d have to do is pay me to spin out their own ongoing Samaritan series and Honor Guard series and so on, drowning the original in imitations, and they could even toss the original aside, because they’d both want to and be able to make more money by simply using my stuff (and paying me). Heck, in a compulsory-licensing universe, I could put it in my contracts that my publisher couldn’t invoke that to take over, but hey, Dynamite’s not my publisher and they could do it too. Anyone could, right up until they kill it by putting out so much low-quality crap — including the Avatar torture-porn cover variants — that there’s no interest in more material any more, from anyone.

    Let us write and draw our own damn stories, instead of letting corporations appropriate them for money whether we want them to or not. Let them go PD after a reasonable time, but not in such a way that we have to compete with well-heeled, avaricious bottom-liners willing to whore out to a paying audience by doing exactly the lowest-common-denominator stuff we don’t want to have done.

    If that kind of law existed, I think I’d have to do nothing but singular works, with no sequels at all, just so I didn’t have to compete with unwanted spinoffs to attract an ongoing audience. Do a story, walk away.

    “But you get paid for it” is not my idea of a worthwhile tradeoff. I’d rather be able to say no, and only get paid for the deals I thought were worth doing.

  18. I didn’t even mention how “we can use your material but have to pay a royalty” instantly means that every creator is now in business with every publisher who feels like it, and if that publisher’s dishonest, it’s now on the creator to chase him for payment on material the creator didn’t want to deal with in the first place.

    CBS says BONES hasn’t made a profit yet and goes deeper and deeper into the hole every year. Do I want to depend on a law saying they can take my material in exchange for a royalty when I already know they don’t pay royalties on stuff they’re supposed to? Do I want to spend my days suing Bluewater Productions for my royalty on the WINGED VICTORY ORGY SPECIAL when they’re insisting they didn’t make any money no matter how well (or poorly) the book sold?

    The music industry is a terrible model for protecting the rights of creators or getting them paid what they deserve. It needs to be repaired way more than other industries need to use it as a model.

    This is over and above my distaste for the idea that the only thing that should matter is money, so as long as a creator’s getting paid for something, others should be able to do whatever they like with the creator’s creations. Even hookers — theoretically — get to say “No, not you. I don’t need the money that bad.”

  19. [This was cross-posted with Kurt, and written before I read Kurt’s second comment on this thread. –Barry]

    Hi, Kurt.

    I’m glad we agree that copyright lasts too long. On September 8th Star Trek will be fifty years old. Why isn’t half a century a “reasonable time”?

    Why don’t those people just make something new?

    Because some people are driven to create new Harry Potter works or new Star Trek works, but don’t feel any drive to create new things. And there’s a huge fanbase that wants to consume those works.

    That’s not what I’m into, personally, but I don’t think there’s anything objectively wrong with people wanting to create and read derivative works. People’s literary passions are what they are, and I think it’s a bad idea for the government to favor one kind of literature over another.

    The model you’re worried about – in which too many low-quality derivative works destroys the market for higher-quality works – doesn’t seem to be true real life. The Star Wars prequels – not to mention more bad Star Wars fanfic then any person could read in a lifetime – didn’t destroy the market for The Force Awakens. The market for new Harry Potter works in Russian and Chinese remains huge, even though there have been a ton of unauthorized, professionally published HP books in Russian and Chinese.

    As a reader, I’d hate it if compulsory licensing happened and you felt that you didn’t could make long-form works anymore. (Although I’d enjoy having more singular works by you to read.) But in practice, I doubt most creators would react that way, just as compulsory licensing in music hasn’t caused songwriters as a whole to quit writing new songs.

    And in return, we’d have more art to enjoy. I’ve heard it said (don’t know if it’s true) that Kris Kristofferson hated Janis Joplin’s cover of “Me and Bobbi McGee”; if that’s true, I don’t think we’d be better off if Joplin’s version didn’t exist.

    That’s the real trade-off, in my view. Not money, but more creators getting to do the work they’re driven to do – including being able to scratch a living out, if there’s a market – and readers (or viewers, or whatever) having more passion-projects to enjoy.

    I feel awkward advocating for a law that you say would hurt you as a creator – I like you, and I hope you’ll take my word for it when I say I wish you well. But, objectively speaking, I can’t see any reason the government should care more for your happiness (or mine) than about the happiness of someone whose heart project is being a full-time creator of works set in the Harry Potter universe. (Or the Hereville universe, or the Astro City universe.)

    Let them go PD after a reasonable time, but not in such a way that we have to compete with well-heeled, avaricious bottom-liners willing to whore out to a paying audience by doing exactly the lowest-common-denominator stuff we don’t want to have done.

    But we’re competing with that stuff already. There’s already a ton of lowest-common-denominator work splitting bookstore shelf space – and a limited supply of consumer dollars – with our books. And there’s a ton of low-quality fanfic – including abusive and horrible stuff, as well as a lot of sincere and nice but poorly written work, and even some genuinely good work – which is competing for readers with our work, and it’s available for free!

    You’re surviving in this market because you and your collaborators are doing higher-quality work than most.[*] I don’t think that would change if compulsory licensing applied to our comics. For readers who want more Astro City, a Busaik/Anderson production scratches that itch better than any knock-off can.

    Again, look at Disney. There are companies which specialize in putting out low-quality knock-offs of anything Disney makes that’s in the public domain. And as long as they avoid treading on Disney’s trademark logo designs, there’s no legal way for Disney to prevent innumerable “Mulans” and “Beauty and the Beasts” and “Ice Queens” from being produced and sold. (And that’s just in the kid’s market – there are also a zillion porns out based on the public domain works Disney made into household names).

    If you were right that knock-offs destroy markets, Disney would have quit long ago. But instead, they keep on making new works based on the public domain – Frozen was their most profitable animation ever. They also put out sequels to their existing public domain-based works. They aren’t do this for charity – they’re doing it for money. Which proves the existence of tons of crappy knock-offs doesn’t obliterate the market for higher-quality works.

    Thanks for the discussion (which I hope will continue), and happy 2016!

    [*] Footnote: Admittedly, doing high-quality work is no guarantee of earning a living. But that’s true regardless of what the copyright law is.

  20. Even if compulsory licensing existed in other media, though, it wouldn’t allow productions like Axanar — it only allows covers of songs, not derivative use or uses in other media (such as soundtracks) which need specific permission from the rightsholder.

    But anyway, the issue with Axanar is likely much more about trademark than copyright: you can’t lose your copyright by not defending it* but you can lose your trademark.

    * Under statute law, anyway. It’s not impossible that there are some jurisdictions in the US where there’s a precedent allowing it.( Also obligatory not-a-lawyer caveat, so anyone with actual professional background in IP law is welcome to correct me.)

  21. I’m glad we agree that copyright lasts too long. On September 8th Star Trek will be fifty years old. Why isn’t half a century a “reasonable time”?

    I wobble-wobble between a specified range that’ll see most creators safely dead before their creations go PD or some form of life-of-the-creator-plus-X, which suggests corporate ownership ranges (if such can exist) that approximate that. Or some combination of those approaches, so elderly creators aren’t looking at everything they create later in their life vanishing into PD swiftly.) I think that’ll usually work out to more than 50 years (although noted, if we were strictly going by, say, life-plus-20, Roddenberry’s creations would be available now. Whether that would mean his various collaborators’ stuff would be available depends on how one rewrites the laws).

    Because some people are driven to create new Harry Potter works or new Star Trek works, but don’t feel any drive to create new things. And there’s a huge fanbase that wants to consume those works.

    You misread my “those people,” which was said in response to your wishing that anyone could have made STAR TREK series to fill the gaps between the ones Paramount made just by paying a royalty. I think the people who could have made those shows, if they were capable of making something good, would be better off — and enrich the public domain — by making new things, like George Lucas did when he made STAR WARS rather than FLASH GORDON.

    I don’t think there’s anything objectively wrong with people wanting to create and read derivative works, either, and didn’t say so. I think there’s something unhealthy for creativity in creating even more inducements for there to be STAR TREK (and other) spinoffs everywhere on TV, filling up the space that new shows could benefit from.

    The model you’re worried about – in which too many low-quality derivative works destroys the market for higher-quality works – doesn’t seem to be true real life.

    The model I was objecting to doesn’t seem to exist in real life.

    The Star Wars prequels – not to mention more bad Star Wars fanfic then any person could read in a lifetime – didn’t destroy the market for The Force Awakens.

    In the model you proposed, I don’t think we’d have only gotten those three movies, or anywhere close to only three. I also think much of what we’d gotten would make those three look like CRIES & WHISPERS.

    But in practice, I doubt most creators would react that way, just as compulsory licensing in music hasn’t caused songwriters as a whole to quit writing new songs.

    I don’t think songs have continuity in the same way a series of novels does. They could, I suppose, and do in the case of musicals, but they’re handled differently.

    I’ve heard it said (don’t know if it’s true) that Kris Kristofferson hated Janis Joplin’s cover of “Me and Bobbi McGee”; if that’s true, I don’t think we’d be better off if Joplin’s version didn’t exist.

    Heck, you can’t even say that it wouldn’t exist if Kristofferson didn’t like it.

    Not money, but more creators getting to do the work they’re driven to do – including being able to scratch a living out, if there’s a market – and readers (or viewers, or whatever) having more passion-projects to enjoy.

    I don’t see it as inherently creating more passion-projects — STAR WARS certainly became a passion-project for Lucas, but I’m not sure FLASH GORDON would have been. People with passion find ways to express it. Making it easier to lock that passion to something they fell in love with as adolescents is not to my mind an obvious plus. [I say that as someone who is greatly inspired and influenced by stuff I fell in love with as an adolescent, and as someone who would like to be able to use material that I think should be PD by now, like MARY POPPINS. But neither of those requires the ability for me to do a sequel to THE HATEFUL EIGHT now, whether Tarantino wants me to or not.]

    I also don’t think it would necessarily incentivize passion projects over chasing-a-buck projects, where some percentage of creators, editors, publishers and so on wouldn’t create new things because there was more money in the old things, and would distort the new things of others in order to cram old things into them.

    I think the comics industry, where popular franchises dominate the market, is a worse model than the book industry, where if you really like Sam Spade, you create your own hardboiled PI. If any comics publisher could use Spider-Man, I suspect it would be even worse.

    [Admittedly, I think Sam Spade should be PD by now, and the early Spider-Man might be getting close to it, depending, so they’re maybe not the best examples, but in my approach, the public gets their creative hands on them, but the creators/copyright holders get that temporary monopoly in order to use them exclusively before others get let in.]

    But, objectively speaking, I can’t see any reason the government should care more for your happiness (or mine) than about the happiness of someone whose heart project is being a full-time creator of works set in the Harry Potter universe.

    I do. I think it encourages creation more, thus enriching the public domain, which is the intent of copyright. That exclusive control gives me the time and space and benefit to create richer, more sweeping works, and for that matter incentivized that Harry Potter fan to make up their own magic school that the public domain will oneday get.

    [That Harry Potter fan can also do fanfic, if such is their “heart project,” but the fact that new stuff is favored by copyright rules gives them a reason to think outside the box, and maybe translate their passion, as Lucas did.]

    But we’re competing with that stuff already. There’s already a ton of lowest-common-denominator work splitting bookstore shelf space – and a limited supply of consumer dollars – with our books.

    But not with our characters and storylines, so no, I don’t think we’re competing with that stuff already, I think you’re moving the goalposts.

    And there’s a ton of low-quality fanfic – including abusive and horrible stuff, as well as a lot of sincere and nice but poorly written work, and even some genuinely good work – which is competing for readers with our work, and it’s available for free!

    And if a profit-making industry could be built around making that stuff as prominently available as the “real” stuff, I think that would be a detriment.

    You’re surviving in this market because you and your collaborators are doing higher-quality work than most.[*] I don’t think that would change if compulsory licensing applied to our comics.

    I do.

    For readers who want more Astro City, a Busaik/Anderson production scratches that itch better than any knock-off can.

    Maybe. For readers who want to see the characters fight and soap-opera it up and have origin specials and so on, factory-second material with the same names might be just fine, and the resultant confusion might damage the “real” stuff even for people who like that most.

    If you were right that knock-offs destroy markets,

    Please don’t put words in my mouth. That is not what I said. Compulsory licensing isn’t not “knock-offs.”

    Thanks for the discussion (which I hope will continue), and happy 2016!

    Happy 2016 back at you, but since we’ve conversed on this subject before, I don’t think it’s going to be much use to do it repetitively. I’m not trying to convince you that my approach to copyright is better than yours; I’m simply noting (at some length) why I don’t like yours. Mostly because I think it’ll point out pitfalls to others, not because I think it’ll sway you.

    If you want me to justify my sense of how long copyright should last so that it convinces you, or else I should change my mind, I don’t think that’s going to happen; I don’t need to convince you to come to my side any more than I need to convince Ben Dewey that Hillary Clinton’s a better bet than Bernie Sanders; we can both vote our way and see what happens. I don’t see your approach as terribly useful — I think you get rapturous about all the perceived creative benefits and ignore all the pitfalls — so I’m unconvinced by your argument. Trying to poke holes in mine won’t make me think yours is better, and me poking holes in yours isn’t likely to get you to drop it either.

    So I’ll just wrap up with this: I wouldn’t vote for your approach to copyright over the current mess we have — bad though I think the current setup is, I think yours is worse. I think it’s bad at encouraging new creation and insulting to creators by replacing control (which is at the heart of the concept of copyright, and what the word literally means) with payment, as if that’s all that matters.

    I think copyright needs reform, but I don’t find your suggested reforms appetizing at all.

  22. I’m finding Kurt Busik’s argument awfully compelling.

    Sure, looking at the proposed law as a way for fans to follow their dreams sounds real nice.

    But in practice what always seems to happen is the big corporate interests with lots of lawyers take over and individual are hosed.

    Disney and the people who wish to riff on it are not the ones we should be looking at.

    Instead it should be small creators and the megacorporations who want to take their ideas without their permission.

    And not just small creators. What would Disney have done if all it needed to do to acquire “Star Wars” was throw a little money at George Lucas? Heck, would he have *gotten* big if anyone and everyone could have made knockoff toys by tossing him a pittance?

    I much prefer the protection of copyright, flawed though it may be.

  23. @Kurt: Well-said, all of it.

    And it’s got to be life+some amount. IIRC, the writer of “Rent” died before the show officially opened. If it was just “life”, then it never would have had the chance to become a massive hit, since everyone could have done “Rent 2: The High Rent District” the minute he was in the ground. Unseemly. Had he instead created a TV show expected to run for 3-10 years, it wouldn’t, since as soon as it was a hit, every network would have a version of it (and assorted merchandising) on air.

    This particular case is a no-brainer — paying salaries and building studio space that they plan to use for other profit-making projects is way beyond “hey we’re gonna do some fanfic”.

  24. And it’s got to be life+some amount. IIRC, the writer of “Rent” died before the show officially opened. If it was just “life”, then it never would have had the chance to become a massive hit, since everyone could have done “Rent 2: The High Rent District” the minute he was in the ground.

    I was thinking a structure of “life-plus or XX years, whichever is longer.” So for young writers, life-plus would cover it, but for older writers, who still want to create things with ongoing value to them and their estates, and want to be able to support themselves and their families via long-term deals, the XX years is more likely to kick in.

    Both of those incentivize creators to create in order to accrue the benefits, the public domain will eventually benefit, and those who want to use that creator’s work have to make an actual mutual deal with them to use it during that period of exclusivity, which incentivizes would-be derivators to use the material as inspiration and create new things, or forego compensation because it ain’t available yet.

    The problem, to my mind, is that copyright lasts too long at present (thanks to corporations that want it to be eternal), not that it needs to be turned into a complete lack of control of one’s own work in return for government-set compensation. Superman and Mary Poppins (at least, the early stuff) should be PD by now, but Harry Potter doesn’t need to be. The public domain can wait a reasonable amount of time for its benefit; the public domain is long. And patient.

    The reality is that neither Barry’s nor my ideas are likely to get any foothold while corporations have so much control. And that’s a long struggle, too. But I live in hope. It’s got nicer views than despair.

    And it’s got to be life+some amount.

    Another reason it needs to be life-plus if it’s life-at-all is so as not to encourage people to shoot authors of popular works in the head or poison them.

    I sometimes think if even corporate copyrights were linked to the life of the initial creator, it would incentivize the companies to keep creators healthy.

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