imageCopyright issues abound with unauthorized fanfiction. Your e-book or other effort derived from someone else’s work might be even more of a legal risk if it’s good. Here’s a cautionary story about a fan of the Star Trek franchise.  A fan-produced film is involved, not a book or short story, but the same ideas would apply.

At first CBS seemed to be supportive. But now the company has changed its tune and is suing to have production stopped.

The producer met with CBS and was essentially told it would look the other way as long as the film did not make any money. What seems to have set off the legal eagles, however, is that the film has hired actual, qualified techies to work on it, putting it into more of a grey area than it might otherwise be.

Should quality be the barometer, though? It is okay to say a bad film, or song, or book, or parody can be permitted, but a good one can’t? How does one set that barometer for evaluation? I know that other Big Media companies have been criticized in the past for going after a Very Little Guy for something. And the prevailing wisdom has always seemed to be that if you don’t go after the little guys, you won’t have credibility when you go after the big ones. You have to defend your trademark.

So will CBS will strike out this time, since it has allowed other fan projects to proceed and has  therefore not ‘defended’ its trademark as vigorously as it should have? Or will the producers of this film be told—as many other authors and fan creators have before them—to apply their skills toward an original creation if they want the guarantee of full creative control?

In the end, that was the argument which finally worked on me. It wasn’t that I was afraid my little fanfic efforts would get me in trouble. It was that I did want to make money. I did want to write what I pleased. And the only way to do that was to create my own intellectual property. It has me wondering why this apparently skilled band of creators is so bent on a Star Trek fan movie. CBS does not have a monopoly on spaceship films—just on those set in the Star Trek world. Why not apply their talents and make their own actual film?

Still, I do think the intellectual property issues here are of interest. I bristle at the over-corporatizing of such things (consider the Happy Birthday To You song) and would love to see more provisions in  laws for a remix culture. But we’ll see. The argument could go either way on this one.  Meanwhile, if you’re going to do fanfiction and it might be good enough to make money, you may be increasing your risk.

Photo information: Here.

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  1. I think the real reason why CBS/Paramount is suing the fan is because CBS is about to start a Star Trek web series, and any fan-based web series will dilute their product and potentially affect their subscription rates. Prior to this new series, Paramount could turn a blind eye because fan web videos never had a potential negative effect on revenue.

    BTW, you accidentally wrote Star Wars when you meant Star Trek, the fanbois will be appalled.

  2. I think this is the problem here: This is the first paragraph of their Indiegogo page:

    “Axanar is the first fully-professional, independent Star Trek film. While some may call it a “fan film” as we are not licensed by CBS, Axanar has professionals working in front and behind the camera, with a fully-professional crew–many of whom have worked on Star Trek itself–who ensure Axanar will be the quality of Star Trek that all fans want to see.”

    I think this is what makes Axanar cross CBS/Paramount’s line. They want to make a professional film AND trade on Star Trek’s name.

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