About a month ago, Paramount and CBS filed a lawsuit against Axanar Productions over infringing copyright, saying their production, Axanar, features "innumerable copyrighted elements of Star Trek, including its settings, characters, species, and themes". After multiple assurances had been given that Axanar was in good standing with Trek's rights holders, this was some upsetting news to fans and staff alike.
But with countless hours and well over a million dollars raised through Kickstarter and Indiegogo, it felt unlikely that exec producer Alec Peters and company would give up without a fight. And they haven't.
Axanar has been taken on by Winston & Strawn, a law practice whose expertise is in intellectual property disputes. “We’re pleased to have our case taken up by Winston & Strawn,” said Peters. “The knowledge, credibility and reputation they bring to this matter will certainly help us work things out with CBS and Paramount in a professional manner and, we hope, to a mutual benefit so we can go on and make a Star Trek film fans have told us they want to see.”
In the meantime, unfortunately, production, which had originally been set to finally be under way as of January, has been indefinitely halted. “We want to produce this film,” said Peters. “And we want to respect the rights of the owners of the intellectual property on which our film is based.”
There will be a formal response to CBS and Paramount's lawsuit prepared and delivered to the court by the end of February.
For fans and supporters, this is a challenging time. Back in August, I asked if Axanar, despite its noble desires to bring the old flavor of original Trek back anew, was still worth it. The response was overwhelmingly "yes," with only a few detractors. In fact, many people were furious that I'd asked at all.
And yet, there is still a part of me asking that question -- is Axanar worth all the money, the delays, and the lawsuits? I don't know. Like many fans, I want the answer to be "yes, absolutely." But it's become quite evident how murky the waters are that fan films like Axanar are wading in.
The very nature of this production, the fans it has garnered and the forthcoming lawsuit raise a lot of questions about the nature of intellectual property rights as they pertain to fan films. If CBS and Paramount win, forcing Axanar to shutter, it will set a damning precedent for fan projects like it moving forward. And that, I think, would be a shame.
Most of us want to believe there's a way for something as large and impressive in scope as Axanar to exist in peace with official continuations like Star Trek: Beyond. What is it the Vulcans say? Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations?