Trekkies Beware: Paramount Pictures V. Axanar Productions
Source: The Recorder
Date: May 3, 2017
Joel M. Grossman, Esq.
daily at www.therecorder.com LAW BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY LAW TECHNOLOGY LAW BUSINESS RECORDER M ovie and TV stu- dios often allow their fans to engage in behavior which tech- nically might violate copyright or trademark law. For exam- ple, the studio which owns the copyright to Star Wars might let fans produce a short video in which fans dress up as Darth Vader or Princess Leia, and act out a scene from the film. If the fans post their homemade 10 minute video on You Tube, the studio probably wouldn’t mind. They might even encour- age such amateur tributes, as they might keep interest in the product alive until the next sequel or prequel hits the mul- tiplex. But what happens if, in a studio’s view, the fans go too far and actually produce a very professional movie funded by crowdsourcing? That is the question raised by the case of Paramount Pictures Corp. v. Axanar Productions, Inc. The case has not been fully liti- gated, but the district court’s ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment is both amusing and instructive. To begin with the basic facts, plaintiff Paramount Pictures and CBS own the copyright to the Star Trek television shows and Paramount owns the copy- right to the thirteen full-length movies that followed. While the copyright owners allowed fans to make their own ama- teur films, they sued when, in their view, Axanar Productions crossed the line. As the court explained, while other Trek- kies have made their own Star Trek films before with no law- suit from Paramount, Axanar sought to go “where no man has gone before” and produce a professional Star Trek film, with a fully professional crew, many of whom worked on one or more Star Trek productions. Axanar raised over a million dollars through crowdsourcing websites to finance the pro- duction. Axanar produced and publicly released what it called Trekkies Beware! Paramount Pictures v. Axanar Productions By Joel M. Grossman Thursday, March 23, 2017 “Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar,” in order to raise money to make the full-length film. At this point Paramount sued, and each side moved for sum- mary judgment. Paramount sought a ruling from the court of copyright infringement, while Axanar sought summary judgment on the defense of fair use. In seeking a ruling of copy- right infringement, Para- mount pointed to Axanar’s use of copyright-protected elements, such as Klingons and Vulcans, and the human character Garth of Izar, all of whom appeared in the tele- vision series. In addition, Axanar used phasers, the Federation logo and even the Klingon language. While the court noted many such similarities, it denied Para- mount’s motion for summary judgment, holding that a jury must ultimately decide the issue. At the same time, the court denied Axanar’s motion seeking a judicial approval of its fair use defense. The court denied the motion, based on its application of the fair use factors. While Axanar argued that its film is actually a par- ody, or “mockumentary,” of the original Star Trek, the court was not convinced, not- ing that “Defendants set out to create films that stay faith- ful to the Star Trek canon and appeal to Star Trek fans. ” While neither side won its summary judgment motion, the court’s analysis leads to the conclusion that Paramount will most likely prevail and the distribution of Axanar’s film will be enjoined. As the court stated: “Here, there is no dis- pute that [Paramount and CBS] have ownership of copyrights to [Star Trek], and that [Axanar]‘s works are substantially similar to [Star Trek}. Thus, the copy- right infringement claim can live long and prosper… ” Joel M. Grossman, Esq. has been exclusively devoted to mediation and arbitration since 2004, following his 25-year legal career as a litigator, labor negotiator, and in-house coun- sel overseeing complex enter- tainment disputes. He may be reached at jgrossman@jam- sadr.com RECORDER Reprinted with permission from the March 23, 2017 edition of THE RECORDER © 2017 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382 or firstname.lastname@example.org. # 501-04-17-02