Star Trek: Axanar, usually just shortened to Axanar, blew our minds when we saw it’s initial short film at Wizard World Sacramento last year. The short, called “Prelude to Axanar,” took the form of a military documentary telling the tale of the Battle of (you guessed it) Axanar, one of the most defining battles of the Klingon/Federation war. The battle was only mentioned in passing on the Star Trek Original Series, but Alec Peters, who also stars in the piece as Garth of Izar, seized in the idea as an untouched piece of Star Trek lore and brought together a professional Hollywood team to tell it. Over the past few years and many crowdfunding campaigns, the Axanar team has raised over a million dollars to tell their story. While the production has been extremely high profile and has a look to rival many of today’s full feature films, it is still legally considered a fan film, and has moved forward with the blessing of the Star Trek rights holders.
That is, until yesterday, when CBS and Paramount filed a law suit seeking damages of around $150,000 for each Star Trek copyright the Axanar team have infringed. That will add up really fast. CBS and Paramount are also seeking an injunction to halt any work on the project.
So let’s break that down. What’s going on here, and why the sudden about face?
Most theories say that CBS and Paramount agreed to allow Axanar to move forward with the thought that it would be a similar project to, say, Star Trek: Renegades. Renegades, another Star Trek fan film created by professional filmmakers and starring actors who had already appeared in previous Star Trek works, has released a few episodes so far but has never reached the heights that Axanar has in crowdfunding. With a budget that’s beginning to rival the lowest tier of actual Hollywood projects, most people agree that CBS and Paramount are moving forward on this lawsuit to prevent Axanar from overshadowing their own upcoming projects. They might have reason to – the Star Trek Beyond trailer that dropped a few weeks ago has been pretty universally derided by hardcore Star Trek fans, who have turned their backs on this new relaunch of Star Trek for being too heavy on the action and not covering the moral and philosophical issues that Star Trek is known for. Meanwhile, Paramount and CBS are producing a new Star Trek TV Show for CBS’s streaming service. If Axanar comes out and is more accepted by the fans as a “true” Star Trek piece, it could cast a shadow over the entire future of Star Trek.
Honestly, this really comes down to movie and TV executives not wanting to have to answer the question of why they couldn’t make their own films more like Axanar.
We’ve spoken to sources involved in the production, and they’ve assured us that production on Axanar is already underway and is continuing. When I asked them what effect the injunction would have, they told me:
I think typically people use the term ‘cease and desist’ to refer to a request that someone discontinue some kind of specific behavior. For instance, an artist might have his attorneys issue a ‘cease and desist’ letter to a political campaign using his music without permission.
By contrast, an injunction is an order requiring that someone not engage in some kind of specific conduct. So for example, if the political campaign refuses to stop using the artist’s music, and the artist goes to court and proves that he’s likely to suffer irreparable harm and/or is likely to prove that he’s suffering damage after a trial on the merits, the court might issue an injunction ‘enjoining’ the campaign from using the music.”
In other words, Axanar still has legal permission to continue making their film until the court rules on Paramount’s request. So what happens now? Axanar will continue working on their film, and Paramount and CBS will continue working through the courts to stop them. Because Axanar Productions has been open about how they’re using the money they’ve raised through crowdfunding, and because none of that money is going towards any kind of profit, it’s going to be a difficult case for CBS and Paramount to win – but that doesn’t mean Axanar is free and clear just yet.
The official statement being sent to press by CBS and Paramount reads:
“Star Trek is a treasured franchise in which CBS and Paramount continue to produce new original content for its large universe of fans. The producers of Axanar are making a Star Trek picture they describe themselves as a fully professional independent Star Trek film. Their activity clearly violates our Star Trek copyrights, which, of course, we will continue to vigorously protect.”
We’ve reached out to the Axanar folks for comment and will respond when we know more, but Alec Peters said earlier today to Variety:
“All the money that’s been donated goes into the production and our goal is to do good for Star Trek,” he added. “We are huge fans. They are picking a fight with the wrong guys.”
If you feel like trying to decipher legal documents, you can check out the full filing here.