Star Trek Fan Fiction Suit Settles

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on January 31, 2017 5:59 AM

This notable fan fiction case has been pending in federal court for about a year. Paramount, which owns the rights to the Star Trek television and movie franchise, sued a small studio for producing a "fan fiction" film called "Axanar" based on the popular sci-fi enterprise.

According to the recent settlement, the fan-film producers can finish their movie but cannot make money from it, and the movie can only last a total of 30 minutes.

It was a bittersweet resolution for Alec Peters and Axanar Productions, Inc., but they joined in a press release announcing the settlement last week: "Paramount and CBS would like Star Trek fans, with their boundless creativity and passion, to 'Live Long and Prosper.'"

Boldly Go to YouTube

"Axanar" was to be a 90-minute spin-off from an episode about the Klingons and other characters in the Star Trek universe. The filmmakers put up a 21-minute sample called "Prelude to Axanar" on YouTube to raise money for the venture, which caught Paramount's attention. The short also drew in about 2.8 million viewers and about $1.4 million for the production.

The case was set for trial Jan. 31, 2017, but has settled. It allows "Axanar" to continue, but with restrictions. Besides the limits on advertising, compensation and length of productions, the settlement allows the fan fiction to be released only online for free and not on DVD.

Guidelines More Than Rules

The case would have been the first to go to trial over fan-fiction, although Judge Gary Klausner narrowed the issues with rulings on summary judgment earlier this month. One ruling dealt a death-star-like blow in copyright infringement because the judge said Axanar could not raise the fair use defense.

Another motion, however, saved Klingon -- at least as a language. An amicus brief by the Language Creation Society argued Klingon could not be copyrighted. Paramount apparently conceded the point.

Otherwise, the case left open for the future questions about boundaries in the fan fiction universe. There are the pre-trial rulings in the case on copyright and then there are some guidelines.

As a result of the litigation, Paramount published guidelines for all creators of Star Trek fan fiction.

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