CBS and Paramount Issue Trek Fan Film Guidelines

Despite J.J. Abrams’ announcement that the copyright infringement suit would be dropped, Axanar Productions and Paramount and CBS are still sparring. On May 23, Axanar filed an answer and counterclaim with the court (as reported here), and on June 15 the studios filed their reply (which can be downloaded here). And today, the studios issued The Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines, which promise “CBS and Paramount Pictures will not object to, or take legal action against, Star Trek fan productions that are non-professional and amateur and meet the following guidelines….”

Some of the key restrictions are:

  • All participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated, or have been previously employed by any Star Trek franchise.
  • Limited fundraising for production is allowed – no more than $50,000.
  • The production can have no more than two episodes; a single episode limited to 15 minutes, or a combination limited to 30 minutes in length.
  • It must be distributed free, and only online.

It’s not unlikely some Trek fan film production groups operate within these parameters already, but the guidelines will cut the legs from under the best-known of the genre. In comparison, the team behind Axanar raised more than $1.2 million through a crowdfunding campaign, and were planning to pay workers on a professional basis.

Guidelines for Avoiding Objections:

  1. The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than 2 segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.
  2. The title of the fan production or any parts cannot include the name “Star Trek.” However, the title must contain a subtitle with the phrase: “A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION” in plain typeface. The fan production cannot use the term “official” in either its title or subtitle or in any marketing, promotions or social media for the fan production.
  3. The content in the fan production must be original, not reproductions, recreations or clips from any Star Trek production. If non-Star Trek third party content is used, all necessary permissions for any third party content should be obtained in writing.
  4. If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek uniforms, accessories, toys and props, these items must be official merchandise and not bootleg items or imitations of such commercially available products.
  5. The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.
  6. The fan production must be non-commercial:
  • CBS and Paramount Pictures do not object to limited fundraising for the creation of a fan production, whether 1 or 2 segments and consistent with these guidelines, so long as the total amount does not exceed $50,000, including all platform fees, and when the $50,000 goal is reached, all fundraising must cease.
  • The fan production must only be exhibited or distributed on a no-charge basis and/or shared via streaming services without generating revenue.
  • The fan production cannot be distributed in a physical format such as DVD or Blu-ray.
  • The fan production cannot be used to derive advertising revenue including, but not limited to, through for example, the use of pre or post-roll advertising, click-through advertising banners, that is associated with the fan production.
  • No unlicensed Star Trek-related or fan production-related merchandise or services can be offered for sale or given away as premiums, perks or rewards or in connection with the fan production fundraising.
  • The fan production cannot derive revenue by selling or licensing fan-created production sets, props or costumes.
  1. The fan production must be family friendly and suitable for public presentation. Videos must not include profanity, nudity, obscenity, pornography, depictions of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or any harmful or illegal activity, or any material that is offensive, fraudulent, defamatory, libelous, disparaging, sexually explicit, threatening, hateful, or any other inappropriate content. The content of the fan production cannot violate any individual’s right of privacy.
  2. The fan production must display the following disclaimer in the on-screen credits of the fan productions and on any marketing material including the fan production website or page hosting the fan production: “Star Trek and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film intended for recreational use.  No commercial exhibition or distribution is permitted. No alleged independent rights will be asserted against CBS or Paramount Pictures.”
  3. Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law.
  4. Fan productions cannot create or imply any association or endorsement by CBS or Paramount Pictures.

CBS and Paramount Pictures reserve the right to revise, revoke and/or withdraw these guidelines at any time in their own discretion. These guidelines are not a license and do not constitute approval or authorization of any fan productions or a waiver of any rights that CBS or Paramount Pictures may have with respect to fan fiction created outside of these guidelines.

Immediately after the Abrams announcement Alec Peters of Axanar had tried to line up support from other Trek fan filmmmakers for his own “Proposed Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines,” perhaps hoping to forestall the strict rules now laid out by the studios. Peters’ draft aligned with the new guidelines only in a few minor respects, and differed on major points by setting no limit on donations (although banning the use of crowdfunding sites), allowing payment of professional cast and crew (but not “any of the principals”) and permitting a 50-minute film length.

Meanwhile, litigation continues. The Axamonitor site ran an in-depth analysis of the studios’ latest filing with the court.

In their eight-page response, CBS and Paramount generally denied Axanar’s claims, especially challenging Axanar’s assertion that “until this lawsuit, Plaintiffs, or any predecessor claiming to own copyrights in the Star Trek universe, had never filed a lawsuit against any Star Trek fan in connection with that fan’s efforts to contribute to the wealth of Star Trek fan fiction that currently exists.”3) Instead, the plaintiffs replied:

[Plaintiffs] admit that they have not sued with respect to all uses of the Star Trek Copyrighted Works, but deny that they have not previously sued to enforce their intellectual property rights in the Star Trek Copyrighted Works.4)

Tolerated Use

The plaintiffs disputed Peters’ claim that given his “extensive history with CBS,” he believed he was “operating within the tolerated realm of Star Trek fan fiction,” and that he “reached out to CBS on multiple occasions in an effort to seek guidelines about the production.”5) Instead, they stated:

[The plaintiffs] deny that Defendant Alec Peters “reached out to CBS” on multiple occasions, admit that Defendant Alec Peters spoke to [CBS officials] Bill Burke and to John Van Citters, but state that Mr. Peters was never given permission to use Star Trek Copyrighted Works, nor was he provided with “guidelines” regarding ways in which he could use Plaintiffs’ intellectual property for his Star Trek film projects, for either commercial or non-commercial use, nor was he told that his use of such Star Trek Copyrighted Works would be tolerated.

If the case is not settled, trial is scheduled for January 2017.

[Thanks to Stephen Granade for the story.]

13 thoughts on “CBS and Paramount Issue Trek Fan Film Guidelines

  1. So what I’m taking away from this mess is that CBS/Paramount/etc. were turning a willful blind eye to most of the fan productions, but Axanar’s production shenanigans made them bring down the boot. That’s really sad. It’s not like Star Trek Phase II or Continues or any of the rest were going to take away any revenue from the rebooted movies or book or DVD sales.

    Is it just me, or is Alec Peters doubling down instead of backing off a bit?

  2. This doesn’t look good for a couple films I’ve backed. I’ll be interested in seeing how they respond or if they say anything on Kickstarter. So far they’ve been silent but this is going to impact rewards.

  3. Welp, I hope the Axanar people are happy. There’s always gotta be one jerk who has to ruin it for everyone by trying to benefit only themselves, and Peters is it.

    He’s why we can’t have nice things. Asshole.

  4. That $50k crowdfunding limit effectively removes Kickstarter from the equation – they don’t have a “quit early” or “reached my goal” option. Projects run until their time expires.

    That means that they have effectively eliminated the most well-known crowdfunding site, which means that crowdfunding is already an uphill battle for would-be filmmakers.

  5. I have a similiar feeling as you, lurkertype. You pissed the bed for everyone, Peters, thanks ya selfish greedy jerk.

    And I am so so SO tired of seeing other fans crap all over the Reboot films as a justification for these shenanigans. No one has to like any movie they don’t like, but the constant sneering at Reboot fans as not real fans or casual fans or driveby fans or whatever is incredibly tiresome. As I’ve mentioned before, I loved the Reboot movies (ok not the second one as much but still had a lot of fun elements even if I disagree so much with the casting of Khan) and part of what I enjoyed about the Reboot films was how many new fans it brought to Star Trek, who made so much great fan art and fanfics and other things like funny memes and animated gifs. It made being a fan of Reboot just a huge ton of fun and encouraged all sorts of cool fan activities like a ST Secret Santa that I participated in a few times. And I know I’m not the only one who was an old Star Trek fan that enjoyed the Reboot films so not only is the concept of Reboot fans not being “real fans” asinine, the idea that they are only new to Trek fans is also not true.

    And shoutout to John Seavey in this io9 article for calling out that sort of gatekeeping nonsense.

  6. Thanks! *blushes*

    And one of the points I keep trying to make is that none of this is a guarantee Paramount will sue existing fan productions. When pressed for detailed guidelines on fan films, they were pretty restrictive, but that’s more or less to be expected–this is something that they might have used against them in a copyright infringement lawsuit, it’s not going to be lax. It’s way too early to tell whether this actually signals a change in policy, or if Paramount will continue to unofficially pretend that existing fan productions like ‘New Voyages’ aren’t out there.

  7. Tee hee I do love to make a bloke blush 😀

    It’s interesting how many people have interpreted these guidelines as hard rules rather than an explicit clarification in detail about what CBS/Paramount will and won’t permit with fan films. All these “but what about replica phasers???” questions just kinda show that fans ARE not immediately clear what is and isn’t permitted or what exactly constitutes copyright infringement according to the IP holder, so in a way it just shows the need for these sorts of official IP-fan guidelines and maybe the studios should establish an email or contact form that would allow fans to ask those sort of specific questions and get a definitive answer.

    But yeah I’m not clear either about whether these guidelines indicate that Paramount/CBS is going to be more proactive about going after fan films or it’s just intended in a “well we publically let fans know that these things are a problem so they can’t say they didn’t know” but otherwise pretend they don’t see fan films unless someone gets to Peters-level of pushing it.

  8. @John Seavey It’s way too early to tell whether this actually signals a change in policy, or if Paramount will continue to unofficially pretend that existing fan productions like ‘New Voyages’ aren’t out there.

    Good point

  9. True, a lot of this honestly smells like deliberately creating rules strict enough that if they don’t like what you’ve done, they’ll find something that allows them to come down on you, while still leaving some explicit open areas. There isn’t anything in this saying that everybody who breaks those rules will be sued; just that they promise not to sue anybody who abides by those guidelines. It’s setting a limit that allows them to look at everybody past that limit on a case by case basis.

    That said, as a number of others have pointed out: no alcohol? That would cover a number of the actual episodes.

  10. I think these rules allow for skits, parody trailers, etc. just fine and then they can deal with other things case by case. I suspect the existing well-known ones will be grandfathered in. These say they “may” sue others, not that they “will”.

    I’m okay with Peters being declared anathema and shunned. Unclean!

  11. I wouldn’t be surprised if these guidelines fade away until there’s another Axanar situation. Anyone remember when Paramount were suing fan sites in the 90s for looking like the LCARS interface, or confiscating collections of trek fanfic at cons in the 70s?

  12. Pingback: Axanar Lawsuit Settled | File 770

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