Last month, Star Trek Beyond executive producer J.J. Abrams addressed the ongoing litigation between Paramount Pictures, CBS and Axanar Productions — the company behind the fan films Star Trek: Axanar and Prelude to Axanar — suggesting the legal proceedings would come to an end.
“We started talking about and realized it was not an appropriate way to be dealing with the fans,” said Abrams at the time. “Fans of Star Trek are part of this world. So we went to the studio and pushed them to stop this lawsuit. Withing the next few weeks, it will be announced that this is going away.”
A short time later, Buzzfeed’s Adam B. Vary received a statement the media companies, who co-own Star Trek, saying the parties involved were engaged in “settlement discussions.”
But according to The Hollywood Reporter, lawyers engaged on the studios’ behalf have continued to press the matter in court. On May 23rd, Axanar Productions answered the claims leveled against them with a counterclaim referencing Abrams’ comments and the tweeted statement sent to Buzzfeed. The studios responded that the statements “speak for themselves,” but maintain the proposed Axanar film continues to represent an unfair appropriation of their intellectual property.
For decades, Paramount tacitly accepted the existence of fan films as their distribution was limited. But as the technology allowed for the films to improve in quality and circulate more readily, the studio — now in concert with CBS, who controls Trek‘s television prospects — made occasional changes to what they would tolerate. In 2012, CBS asked the producers of Star Trek: New Voyages to cease the use of previously unproduced Star Trek scripts and published novels as the basis for new episodes. The situation was resolved without New Voyages shutting down entirely.
But the late 2015 court filing suggests the period of tolerance may be coming to an end. With the studios entering the Internet realm in an official capacity via the 2017 streaming first Star Trek series and the fan film producers becoming more and more technically proficient, the lines are blurring between what constitutes a fan work and a fully endorsed studio product.The case has also brought to light an increasing tension between fan films and the owners of the concepts upon which they are based. And whatever the outcome of this specific case, that tension will no doubt lead to an new level of legal scrutiny toward fan works available online.
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