If you’ve been tuned at all to developments in the science fiction or intellectual property fields, you know that Paramount Pictures and CBS have been pursuing copyright infringement litigation against the producers of a Star Trek fan-fiction movie called Axanar. The fan/producers published the 20-minute teaser Prelude to Axanar on YouTube in August 2014 (which as of today has been viewed more then 2.3 million times), and raised over a million dollars through Kickstarter to fund a full-length film. This level of investment, and the project’s Hollywood-quality production values, set this film apart from the more common fan fiction that studios usually tolerate.
The lawsuit has already generated a wealth of interesting developments, including a fascinating debate over whether the Klingon language can be copyrighted, and conflicting statements to the public by the studios’ lawyers and by director J.J. Abrams about whether or not the studios will drop the lawsuit.
Most recently and with much less fanfare, CBS and Paramount have now rolled out a new set of official guidelines for fan-made Star Trek films. Neither the associated press release nor the guidelines themselves mention Axanar directly, but it’s hard to believe that the timing of these guidelines wasn’t inspired by the unprecedented attention to the issue generated by that case.
The text of the guidlelines are reproduced in full below. A few interesting details to note:
- Neither these nor any other guidelines set a definitive bar as to what is, and is not, fair use of a copyrighted property like Star Trek. That determination can only be made by a court, applying the factors found in 17 U.S.C. 107. Rather, as the guidelines themselves note, this is a list of conditions under which the studios “will not object to, or take legal action against, Star Trek fan productions.” Still, the existence of these guidelines could be a persuasive consideration in any future lawsuit over whether a particular use of Star Trek content is fair.
- The guidelines’ temporal limitations–no more than 15 minutes per story, with no sequels–would rule out Prelude to Axanar, not to mention the full-length Axanar film.
- They contain a number of limitations on the use of Star Trek-related trademarks and official copyrighted content, which is to be expected. Trademark owners who give third parties carte blanche to use their trademarks without any quality controls risk losing their rights altogether.
- Fans can raise money to support their project, but no more than $50,000–which also seems designed to prevent future Axanars.
- The films must remain digital-only, and not be sold in physical DVDs–which hardly seems like a burden nowadays.
All in all, it’s a smart move for the studios to issue guidelines, given how popular fan fiction is in general, and in particular with the Star Trek franchise. The timing makes sense, not only because of the Axanar lawsuit but also because CBS is about to launch a new anthology-type Star Trek television series that explores the sorts of “untold stories” that fan films exist to tell. The debate will continue over whether these standards in particular are ones that fans can live with and that courts will enforce. Only time will tell on those questions.
Here are the guidelines in full:
CBS and Paramount Pictures are big believers in reasonable fan fiction and fan creativity, and, in particular, want amateur fan filmmakers to showcase their passion for Star Trek. Therefore, 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.
Guidelines for Avoiding Objections:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law.
- 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.