Thursday, March 23, 2017
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Trekkies Beware! Paramount Pictures v. Axanar Productions
By Joel M. Grossman
Movie and far and actually produce a very TV stu- professional movie funded by dios often crowdsourcing? That is the allow their question raised by the case of
fans to Paramount Pictures Corp. v.
engage in behavior which tech- Axanar Productions, Inc. The
nically might violate copyright case has not been fully liti-
or trademark law. For exam- gated, but the district court's
ple, the studio which owns the ruling on cross-motions for
copyright to Star Wars might summary judgment is both
let fans produce a short video amusing and instructive.
in which fans dress up as Darth To begin with the basic facts,
Vader or Princess Leia, and act plaintiff Paramount Pictures Trek films before with no law-
out a scene from the film. If and CBS own the copyright to suit from Paramount, Axanar
the fans post their homemade the Star Trek television shows sought to go "where no man
10 minute video on You Tube, and Paramount owns the copy- has gone before" and produce
the studio probably wouldn't right to the thirteen full-length a professional Star Trek film,
mind. They might even encour- movies that followed. While with a fully professional crew,
age such amateur tributes, as the copyright owners allowed many of whom worked on one
they might keep interest in the fans to make their own ama- or more Star Trek productions.
product alive until the next teur films, they sued when, in Axanar raised over a million
sequel or prequel hits the mul- their view, Axanar Productions dollars through crowdsourcing
crossed the line. As the court websites to finance the pro-
But what happens if, in a explained, while other Trek- duction. Axanar produced and
studio's view, the fans go too kies have made their own Star publicly released what it called
"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 summary 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 copyright infringement, Paramount 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 television series. In addition, Axanar used phasers, the Federation logo and even the Klingon language. While
the court noted many such similarities, it denied Paramount'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 parody, or "mockumentary," of the original Star Trek, the court was not convinced, noting that "Defendants set out to create films that stay faithful 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 dispute that [Paramount and CBS] have ownership of copyrights to [Star Trek], and that [Axanar]`s works are substantially similar to [Star Trek}. Thus, the copyright 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 counsel overseeing complex entertainment disputes. He may be reached at email@example.com
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