After over a year of tangled legal proceedings, and to many a fan's contention, CBS and Paramount will officially settle their lawsuit against fan-made film Axanar in court. The producers of this movie are being sued by CBS and Paramount for copyright infringement, as Axanar takes place within the #StarTrek universe and continues plot points from The Original Series.
This seems pretty cut and dry, but the sticking point has been the fact that there are a plethora of other Star Trek fan movies and TV shows, with some of them even starring original cast members — like Star Trek: Renegades, featuring Walter Koenig as Admiral Pavel Chekov, and Tim Russ as Tuvok.
Because of the existence of other unlicensed Star Trek productions, fans have been up in arms about the Axanar lawsuit, but CBS and Paramount make a fair case. Axanar is a full length movie, funded by $1 million raised online — and crucially, it steps on the toes of #StarTrekDiscovery, a new TV show set to air later this year.
Previously On Paramount v Axanar Productions
What's really interesting about this case is that the Axanar producers were totally unaware of Discovery when they planned the movie, and indeed, when Paramount and CBS began the lawsuit Discovery had not yet been announced.
Many fans suspected that this new show was exactly why CBS had suddenly taken an interest in the fan production, and the judge's ruling does state that one of the reasons Axanar flouts copyright law is because it trespasses on areas of the canon that CBS and Paramount may want to use for future "derivative" works (ie: spinoffs like Discovery). Crucially, Axanar and Discovery are both prequels to The Original Series, respectively set 21 and 10 years before Kirk's five year voyage on the Enterprise.
Although not mentioned in the lawsuit, it's logical to assume that CBS did not want a fan film to be released around the same time as Discovery, pulling focus from the new show and rivaling the plot with a similar setting. This is pure conjecture, but it could be that after the Axanar team raised $1 million to make the movie, CBS realized that Star Trek was still a viable franchise — and that fans would pay for it, in much the same way that we pay for streaming services. You know, like CBS All Access, the streaming service that Discovery will be based on.
A Jury Will Decide
But enough outlandish conclusions, let's steer this starship back to the lawsuit. The California federal judge has struck down the Axanar filmmakers' "fair use" defence, arguing that Axanar uses far too much of the Star Trek canon material — like Klingons, Vulcans, and the character of Garth of Izar — to be considered anything other than a Trek ripoff. As Spock might say, the ruling really is a "dazzling display of logic."
Thus, this case will be settled in court, with a jury of "ordinary people" deciding whether Axanar feels "substantially similar" to Star Trek — and at this point, that's exactly what Axanar seems to be.
But the true winner here is the judge who wrote the ruling, peppering it with as many Star Trek references as there were tribbles on the Enterprise.* The defendant is described as "going where no man has gone before in producing Star Trek fan films", and the law's demands for copyright infringement are called "Vulcan-like". My personal favorite comes after the judge explains that the verdict rests on whether Axanar feels substantially similar to a Trek movie, stating "sometimes a feeling is all we humans have to go on." I wonder how long the judge was waiting to make that reference.
If fans were angry that the case was being taken to someone who didn't understand their love for the franchise, the ruling certainly proves the judge is as much of a Trekkie as any of us. And after picking through the document with as much "excruciating detail" as the Axanar creative team paid to the Star Trek canon, as a fan this movie definitely feels like copyright infringement. Fascinating.
*This is an exaggeration, Captain, as there could not possibly be 1,771,561 Star Trek references in this legal document.
Do you think 'Axanar' is copyright infringement?