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Paramount Rains Guidelines on 'Star Trek' Fan Films

23 Jun, 2016 By: John Latchem

The studios behind “Star Trek” June 23 issued a set of guidelines for fan films to follow in order to avoid legal action for copyright violations. The move was prompted in large part by a lawsuit filed against the makers of fan film Star Trek: Axanar by CBS and Paramount Pictures, owners of the “Star Trek” TV show and movie brands, respectively.

While unofficial fan films have been a staple of “Star Trek” fandom for decades, the lawsuit contends the makers of Axanar took things too far by crowdsourcing about $1 million to fund a professionally produced feature-length “Star Trek” spin-off movie without permission.

In their statement, CBS and Paramount wrote they were “big believers in reasonable fan fiction and fan creativity, and, in particular, want amateur fan filmmakers to showcase their passion for Star Trek.” The guidelines should not be construed as authorization for any project, and of course any fan film that wishes to go beyond the scope of the recommendations can still test their rights in court.

According to the provisions posted at StarTrek.com/fan-films, any such projects hoping to avoid the ire of Paramount’s legal department must remain non-professional at all levels, and participants cannot be compensated for their services. Fan films cannot exceed 30 minutes in length, with a fundraising cap of $50,000. They cannot use “Star Trek” in their title, but must include the subtitle “A Star Trek Fan Production,” as well as a statement asserting the ownership of “Star Trek” by Paramount and CBS. They must contain content deemed family friendly by Paramount and CBS. They also cannot use actors or filmmakers who previously worked on “Star Trek” TV shows, movies or home video productions.

Many observers have noted the rules seem specifically tailored as a response to Axanar, which notably secured the involvement of previous “Trek” talent as a selling point of its fundraising campaign, including actor Gary Graham reprising his role as the Vulcan ambassador from the “Star Trek: Enterprise” TV series. The guidelines, if followed, would also preclude filmmaker Robert Meyer Burnett (Free Enterprise) from directing Axanar since he helped produce bonus materials for the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” Blu-rays.

Other guidelines stipulate that fan films cannot have sequels or be ongoing series, and that they cannot be distributed on DVD or Blu-ray. Axanar touted an eventual Blu-ray version of the final film one of the incentives to donate.

The guidelines would also seem to target other well-known “Star Trek” fan projects, such as “Star Trek Continues” and “Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II,” both of which are multi-episode series, and “Star Trek Renegades,” created by “Star Trek: Voyager” star Tim Russ and featuring several former “Trek” stars such as Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols and Robert Picardo.

According to Buzzfeed, Axanar’s producers said they went to CBS a year ago asking for guidelines concerning what fan films would be allowed to do, and were told only that the studio would provide no advice other than to let them know only after they crossed a line — a message sent with the Dec. 29 lawsuit.

During a fan event in May to promote the July 22 theatrical release of Star Trek Beyond, producer J.J. Abrams (who directed 2009’s Star Trek and its 2013 sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness) said that the lawsuit sent the wrong message about the studio’s view of fan films and suggested it was being dropped. However, the creators of Axanar repeated on Twitter and other sources that nothing had changed in the studios’ position until the announcement of the guidelines, with which they expressed disappointment and described as “draconian.”

“The CBS ‘guidelines’ for fan films basically make it impossible for fan films to continue as they have,” read a statement on the Axanar Facebook page.

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