Late last year, the creators of the short Star Trek fan film Prelude to Axanar were preparing to start work on its feature-length follow-up, Axanar. Progress came to a halt, however, when the creators were notified of a lawsuit over copyright infringement from Star Trek franchise owners CBS and Paramount.
The creators of the fan film asked the court to either dismiss the case outright or at least strike some of the copyright claims, but weren’t successful. On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Klausner ruled (PDF link) that the lawsuit will indeed go to court on January 31, 2017.
The day before the ruling, the Axanar team had expressed optimism, particularly that the date for the hearing had been moved up by more than three months. “That means, we could win this case and have Axanar back in production in March, 2017,” Axanar Productions head and Prelude to Axanar actor Alec Peters wrote in a blog post on the company’s website. “Yes, we will finish Axanar!”
The Axanar creators had argued that certain elements associated with the Star Trek universe like the Klingon language couldn’t be protected by copyright. In his ruling, Klausner doesn’t dispute that these elements might not be protected when used alone, but as a whole, it’s a different story.
“When viewed in a vacuum, each of these elements may not individually be protectable by copyright,” Klausner said in the ruling. “Plaintiffs, however, do not seek to enforce their copyright in each of these elements individually. Rather, Plaintiffs’ copyright infringement claims are based on the Star Trek Copyrighted Works as a whole.”
While CBS and Paramount can certainly afford a lengthy period in court much more than the creators of a crowdfunded film can, Peters is confident that his team will come out victorious on at least some counts. “My money is on the judge dismissing at least the claim against the film Axanar, since we haven’t even begun production, and so you can’t even judge a fair-use defense,” he wrote.
In the past, both CBS and Paramount have looked the other way on fan works, which is part of the reason such an ambitious effort as Axanar was conceived in the first place. That said, it’s easier than ever to distribute these works, and there are multiple official Star Trek projects underway, which could explain why the companies are now being litigious.
“In the meantime, we continue our efforts to settle this matter with CBS and Paramount so we can move forward with telling the story of Axanar in a way that satisfies both the studios and the over ten thousand fans who financially supported our project,” Peters wrote in a blog post yesterday.
Edited by Kristofer Wouk on 05-11-2016: Updated to clarify when various comments by Peters were made