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CBS/Paramount Suing Crowdsourced Star Trek Axanar
Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Star Trek Axanar is a labor of love for its enthusiasts, a prequel film made by fans of the original TV series that aims to be as professionally made as any Hollywood production. Drawing upon one of the original episodes of the original Star Trek series, Axanar tells the story of a young Starfleet Captain Garth, the legendary future hero of Izar that was instrumental in ending the four-year war with the Klingon Empire.
A two-hour Axanar film has already drawn more than $1 million dollars in crowdsourced money, and is in post-production. However, the future of the project is now in jeopardy as the owners of the Star Trek franchise, CBS/Paramount, have filed a lawsuit against the Axanar production to cease and desist, as well as for damages to the brand.
What's of greater interest to fandom is that this is the first recent and major lawsuit filed against a fan production. Since the rise of the internet to mainstream culture, fanfilms and cosplaying have been a growing presense in the mainstream public. Imaginary universes like Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Marvel and DC superheroes can and have been the playing ground for budding film and video game creators. Their fan creations have been uploaded to video sharing sites like YouTube, and often receive more than a million views. In the case with Star Wars, Lucasfilm had given a working framework for fans to make and share their own Star Wars projects: as long as you don't make money from it, and it's respecful to the Star Wars universe, we're OK with it. Lucasfilm even issues yearly awards to the best fan-created productions.
With Star Trek, there's never been any official statement from its owners about the parameters of fanmade work; it seems to be more of a "don't ask, and we won't answer" approach to the grey zone of fan-created Trek content. But now, with the filing against the Axanar team, it will likely send a serious shockwave through the Star Trek community, and also jeopardize other fanmade Trek productions like Star Trek Continues or Phase II, two other popular independent projects that have also received significant attention and seven figures in crowdsourced money and manpower.
So why now? What's precipitated CBS to file their lawsuit against Axanar's creators?
It's merely speculation on my part but it might have to do with CBS's new Star Trek TV show, slated for broadcast in early 2017 on CBS All Access. Might there be some material in Star Trek Axanar that is being used for CBS's presently untitled new Trek series? Maybe the era is one being used (a generation before Kirk's time as Captain), or maybe the setting (the Klingon war). To my eyes, there must be more to this filing than CBS merely wanting to flex copyright control over its IP. If it's not, why pick on Axanar and not any of the other Star Trek fan shows?
Whatever the reason for this move, it's going to be one closely watched by everyone involved directly at the fan film level.
Watch the 20-minute prequel for Star Trek Axanar below. It was created as a proof of concept for the longer two-hour film that's in development.
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