Saturday, January 21, 2017

Star Trek Axanar Lawsuit Settled

The long saga of the Axanar lawsuit has come to an end. The production for a relatively expensive fan film that got sued by CBS and Paramount has ended in a settlement with Axanar Production and producer Alec Peters. While all the details were not released, basically Peters agreed to admit to "overreaching" in making the film and whatever he ends up producing will follow the Fan Film Guidelines. Peters likely threw in the towel once it finally sunk in that the court earlier this month effectively decided Axanar was guilty of infringement and the upcoming trial was really about having a jury decide what the monetary punishment should be.

If interested, you can read all the details at TrekMovie.com. For casual fans, this whole saga doesn't mean a thing. The impact on all things Trek is basically zero. However for the die hard fans, those that cosplay, go to conventions, re-watch episodes over and over, surf Trek forums, the impact is probably much more pronounced.

FThe main takeaway from all of this is Star Trek fan films are effectively dead. Technically CBS and Paramount still allow them but that is an illusion at best as the guidelines are strict enough that basically only a backyard film is feasible. In theory experienced actors, directors, and film crew could make a short video but they should only do it if they do not care about the risk of being blacklisted from ever working on a CBS and Paramount produced Trek production in the future. With the start of a new series this year, I do not see any willing to take that risk.

The future of the planned Axanar film is unknown. One option is to give up and not make the film. The problem with that is $1.4 million in donations were raised, money that has mostly been spent so a refund is a non-starter. A lawsuit to get it back would enrich the lawyers but no one else. So I suspect that Peters will make a fan guideline allowed two part Axanar short films that meet the "spirt" of what was promised. However, it will be done without any of the professional assistance he had lined up and so the end result will be like nothing that was promised before this whole debacle began.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery Release Delayed Again

It seems that Star Trek: Discovery continues to be on rocky ground as the release date of the series is bumped yet again. Now CBS has announced that the show will no longer premiere in May, 2017 and has not announced what the new date will be. Considering they have now been burned twice, the refusal to make another launch date makes sense. It is SOP now for the various streaming services to wait to announce a premiere date until the entire season is in the can. It seems that CBS and Trek fans have learned the hard way on why they do that.

CBS said "Production on Star Trek: Discovery begins next week. We love the cast, the scripts and are excited about the world the producers have created. This is an ambitious project; we will be flexible on a launch date if it’s best for the show. We’ve said from the beginning it’s more important to do this right than to do it fast. There is also added flexibility presenting on CBS All Access, which isn’t beholden to seasonal premieres or launch windows."

The show was supposed to premiere this month but due to previous responsibilities from then show runner Bryan Fuller the premiere was moved to May. Fuller then asked for yet another delay and the end result was he was removed as show runner and replaced by Aaron Harberts and Gretchen Berg. As a result his influence on the show would have been in pre-production and the pilot episode. This delay suggests to me they scraped everything and re-started from scratch. Seeds of his ideas will probably live on in the show depending on how much had already been spent on pre-production elements but whatever the first season had been envisioned as has likely now morphed into something different.

This does not mean the show is on the verge of being cancelled. The current plans are to start filming the series on January 24. Even if that was in doubt a new casting was announced and overseas commitments have been made that helped pay for the show's production. Additionally I would not be surprised if some of the cast and crew have pay or play contracts. This means they would get paid for full season of work even if the full season is never filmed. Long story short, it is cheaper now for CBS to continue then to cancel. I hope they plan on avoiding launching in the Fall 2017 as that always tends to be a very crowded time of year with returning and new shows all over the TV calendar.

Sarek Cast in Star Trek: Discovery

A new member of the Star Trek: Discovery cast has been announced. James Frain (The Tudors, Gotham) has joined the cast as Sarek, the father of Spock. Since the series only takes place 10 years before the Original Series then Spock would have been a recent new member on the USS Enterprise under Christopher Pike. Sarek's pre-TOS duties are unknown but likely he was part of the Vulcan embassy team to Earth so I imagine his role would be to represent Federation and Vulcan interests in whatever the main plot of the first season is. At this point it seems the question isn't if Spock's mother, Amanda Grayson, is part of the series but really what actress they will cast in the role.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Star Trek Enterprises 360 Video

Below is a video that lets you have a "VR Experience" assuming you have the right mobile phone equipment. For the rest of us we just have use the controls look around as the camera moves from an Original Series era spacedock to move through past the Enterprise NX-01 (ENT), NCC-1701 (TOS), and 1701-D (TNG) that ends with a reminder that Star Trek: Discovery is "Coming May 2017".

Star Trek Axanar Court Case Major Decision, Jury Trial Set

Yesterday Paramount and CBS received some good news as the Axanar fan film case turned a corner. The California judge wrote "Under the extrinsic test, the Axanar Works are substantially similar to the Star Trek Copyrighted Works. This conclusion finds strong support in Defendants’ intent for the Axanar Works. 'Defendants expressly set out to create an authentic and independent Star Trek film that [stayed] true to Star Trek canon down to excruciating details.'". Basically this decides for Paramount and CBS that they have "broad copyright protections" for all elements of Star Trek and that Axanar's case of fair use is not a valid defense.

While this seems to pretty much end the case, in reality there is a second issue that was pushed to a jury trial for end of January. The trial will be to decide if Axanar Productions and its owner Alec Peters "willfully" infringed on the Star Trek copyright. This will heavily rely on the "so-called intrinsic test that asks whether an ordinary, reasonable person would find the total concept and feel of the works to be substantially similar." In effect the trial is so the jury can decide if Axanar Productions may pay damages or not to Paramount and CBS and if so how much.

Considering fan films, but especially Axanar, are intentionally written, designed and filmed to fit into known continuity of Star Trek by recreating locations, characters, costumes, ships, over all look and feel, it seems the "intrinsic test" portion of the case is already decided. The only real decision is how much damages Axanar will have to pay. The defense that CBS and Paramount didn't use the courts to stop previous fan videos of anything Star Trek related seems like a very weak defense and sadly has been mitigated by new rules caused by the Axanar lawsuit that effectively banned fan films and shorts. It seems if Peters doesn't settle, he is rolling the dice on hoping that a demonstrated love of the franchise might be enough to win jury sympathy so the amount of damages is low enough to end the trial mostly unscathed.

At this point it seems settlement is a no-brainer. Up to now the impression I have had is Paramount and CBS would have settled if Axanar made certain unknown concessions but Alec Peters was determined to push forward. Even now, he has posted a statement indicating that "depending on the outcome of the trial, Axanar may choose to appeal the verdict to the Ninth Circuit." Proving willful intent can be tricky and if this film, like other fan films, showed zero profit motive, there might be a solid argument to be made. However part of the reason Paramount and CBS sued (outside of starting their own new TV series) is in this case the money raised from Star Trek fans to make Axanar was used to buy (not rent) a studio for use not just Axanar but future non-Trek endeavors indicating a profit motive which has long been an understood line in the sand for fan productions. I am not a lawyer but this case is a slam dunk. Even a first month law student could win this case for Paramount and CBS. You can find more detailed legal analysis here.