Fan-Funded Star Trek Film Claims Fair Use as Defense

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The lawsuit between Paramount Pictures and the crowdfunded Star Trek spin-off "Prelude to Axanar" is heating up again. With a trial scheduled for early next year, both parties have submitted motions for summary judgment. The defendants argue, among other things, that their fan-film clearly falls under fair use.

axanarEarlier this year Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios filed a lawsuit against the makers of a Star Trek inspired fan film, accusing them of copyright infringement.

The dispute centers around the well-received short film Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar and the planned follow-up feature film Axanar.

Among other things, the Star Trek rightsholders claim ownership over various Star Trek related settings, characters, species, clothing, colors, shapes, words, short phrases and even the Klingon language.

After some confusion about a possible early settlement, based on comments made by J. J. Abrams, the case is far from over. A trial is scheduled for early next year which means that the ultimate decision may lay in the hands of a jury.

Hoping to have a decision on some of the crucial matters, before the trial starts, both parties submitted a motion for summary judgment to the court.

The Axanar team argues that their films are not infringing Star Trek copyrights. One of the main reasons, according to the makers, is that it clearly fall under fair use.

The fan-films are not in direct competition with other Star Trek works, they note. Instead, Paramount Pictures’ and CBS Studios’ own Star Trek films may benefit from the hype.

“Plaintiffs have not and will not suffer any market harm as a result of the creation and distribution of Defendants’ Works. Instead, these works offer free promotional value to Plaintiffs,” Axanar writes.

“The works are not intended to be commercialized, and will not be competing against Plaintiffs’ Works in movie theaters or otherwise sold for profit,” they add.

The Axanar team notes that their films are transformative and non-commercial in nature, and therefore not infringing. In addition, they stress that they do not use substantial portions of other copyrighted Star Trek films.

“Most notably, the entire plotline and characters in the unfinished Potential Fan Film scripts are original, except for the limited number of characters that come from the obscure edges of the Star Trek Universe.”

As an example of originality the Axanar team highlights that the forthcoming film, which is still unfinished, uses 50 original characters of a total 57 characters.

In determining whether fair use applies, original works that are still unpublished tend to get broader protection. However, according to the Axanar team that is clearly not the case here.

“The allegedly infringed works have been publicized over the course of the last fifty years, thus weighing this factor in favor of Defendants,” they write.

Overall, the Axanar team states that the totality of circumstances supports fair use and they hope the court will agree.

Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios clearly disagree. In their motion for summary judgment they ask the court to rule that the Axanar works are infringing, arguing that fair use doesn’t apply.

“It is beyond dispute that Defendants’ works were not created for purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, or teaching. Similarly, the Axanar Works do not constitute either parody or satire, and (prior to this lawsuit) Defendants never claimed they were.

“Indeed, Defendants expressly set out to create an authentic and ‘independent Star Trek film’ that stayed true to Star Trek canon down to excruciating details,” the studios add.

The court will now have to review both summary motions and is likely to issue its final rulings in the weeks to come.

Axanar’s motion for default judgment is available here (pdf), and a copy of the Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios can be found here (pdf).


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