CBS / Paramount Declare War on Star Trek Fan Films

This year is Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary, and should be a high point in Paramount and CBS’ history and relationship with the fans. You’d never know it from what the two rights-holders are doing and saying.

In a page released today on Startrek.com, new guidelines have been published that pretty much spell the end of Star Trek fan films as we know them. Here is the full text of the statement:

CBS and Paramount Pictures are big believers in reasonable fan fiction and fan creativity, and, in particular, want amateur fan filmmakers to showcase their passion for Star Trek.  Therefore, CBS and Paramount Pictures will not object to, or take legal action against, Star Trek fan productions that are non-professional and amateur and meet the following guidelines.

Guidelines for Avoiding Objections:

  1. The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than 2 segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.
  2. The title of the fan production or any parts cannot include the name “Star Trek.” However, the title must contain a subtitle with the phrase: “A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION” in plain typeface. The fan production cannot use the term “official” in either its title or subtitle or in any marketing, promotions or social media for the fan production.
  3. The content in the fan production must be original, not reproductions, recreations or clips from any Star Trek production. If non-Star Trek third party content is used, all necessary permissions for any third party content should be obtained in writing.
  4. If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek uniforms, accessories, toys and props, these items must be official merchandise and not bootleg items or imitations of such commercially available products.
  5. The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.
  6. The fan production must be non-commercial:
    • CBS and Paramount Pictures do not object to limited fundraising for the creation of a fan production, whether 1 or 2 segments and consistent with these guidelines, so long as the total amount does not exceed $50,000, including all platform fees, and when the $50,000 goal is reached, all fundraising must cease.
    • The fan production must only be exhibited or distributed on a no-charge basis and/or shared via streaming services without generating revenue.
    • The fan production cannot be distributed in a physical format such as DVD or Blu-ray.
    • The fan production cannot be used to derive advertising revenue including, but not limited to, through for example, the use of pre or post-roll advertising, click-through advertising banners, that is associated with the fan production.
    • No unlicensed Star Trek-related or fan production-related merchandise or services can be offered for sale or given away as premiums, perks or rewards or in connection with the fan production fundraising.
    • The fan production cannot derive revenue by selling or licensing fan-created production sets, props or costumes.
  7. The fan production must be family friendly and suitable for public presentation. Videos must not include profanity, nudity, obscenity, pornography, depictions of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or any harmful or illegal activity, or any material that is offensive, fraudulent, defamatory, libelous, disparaging, sexually explicit, threatening, hateful, or any other inappropriate content. The content of the fan production cannot violate any individual’s right of privacy.
  8. The fan production must display the following disclaimer in the on-screen credits of the fan productions and on any marketing material including the fan production website or page hosting the fan production:“Star Trek and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film intended for recreational use.  No commercial exhibition or distribution is permitted. No alleged independent rights will be asserted against CBS or Paramount Pictures.”
  9. Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law.
  10. Fan productions cannot create or imply any association or endorsement by CBS or Paramount Pictures.

CBS and Paramount Pictures reserve the right to revise, revoke and/or withdraw these guidelines at any time in their own discretion. These guidelines are not a license and do not constitute approval or authorization of any fan productions or a waiver of any rights that CBS or Paramount Pictures may have with respect to fan fiction created outside of these guidelines.

What This Means for Trek Fan Films

This document appears aimed at shutting down every Star Trek fan film. There simply are too few Star Trek fan films under fifteen minutes to mention, because of the high hurdle of requiring a bridge set. Productions like the award winning  Star Trek ContinuesAxanar and Star Trek: Renegades are now expressly forbidden because of their length, their use of actors and other professionals who have appeared in or worked on Star Trek television or movies in any capacity. In fact, the new rules appear specifically aimed at Axanar, Star Trek Continues and Renegades. Apparently these are the productions CBS/Paramount fears most.

Also forbidden under the new rules are the following productions, because of length of episodes, and the fact that each of them is a series. We can assume that CBS and Paramount are expecting all these to shut down:

  • Starship Exeter
  • Starship Farragut
  • Star Trek: Dark Armada
  • Star Trek: Hidden Frontier
  • Star Trek: Intrepid
  • Star Trek: Odyssey
  • Star Trek: Phase II
  • Star Trek: Phoenix
  • Star Trek: Progeny

Filmmakers can no longer actually create their own episodes, just short clips, nor can they cheat by breaking the episode down into four parts, because the series length is now limited to two fifteen minute segments. Essentially you can tell a single half-hour story, and that’s it. Ever. Since you can’t make a series, each filmmaker is now allowed to make two (2) 15 minute Trek fan films in their lifetimes.

Filmmakers also cannot use third party costumes or props of any kind if a commercially licensed source is available. That crappy little half-sized TNG phaser not looking right on camera? Tough. Not happy with the Halloween costumes for your uniforms?  Tough. Authenticity is now expressly verboten because of their fanaticism about licensing. They shortsightedly want every penny they can squeeze out of film makers, and appear to have absolutely no concept of the bigger picture and what consequences they will suffer from the fans. In short, it is an arrogance and disdain for the fans that drives their guidelines.

Compare and contrast this with Lucasfilm’s rules for fan films. Oh, sorry, you can’t, because they don’t exist. It’s commonly accepted that one does not do profane or obscene fan films about Star Wars, because it actually breaks the established world you’re working in to do that. There are rules for production of Star Wars fan films, but these only apply to the Lucasfilm fan film competitions held every year. There are rules for decency and length, and you have to use their sound effects, but these all have to do with the contest itself, not Star Wars fan films in general. The fact that this completely contrasting view of fan films even exists is proof that CBS and Paramount’s approach is just wrong.

Under the new rules, every single existing Star Trek fan production is now forbidden. Some of the best Star Trek stories ever made are arguably fan productions at this point. If we were expecting any compassion from Paramount / CBS joint legal, those illusions are now and duly shattered. Under these conditions, why would any fan ever want to attempt to make a fan film ever again? It’s very clear that CBS  and Paramount simply hate what the fans are doing, and the lawyers are the curators of the Star Trek franchise.

Also note that last line. CBS and Paramount may redraw any of these guidelines without notice, so the entire statement is rendered moot. Nobody will ever actually know what they like and don’t like. It’s carte blanche to do whatever they happen to feel like doing to the fans, and is the same as having no guidelines at all. The sum effect is to squash any interest at all in creating fan films for Star Trek. They obviously want this problem gone, and they have no interest in keeping their captive audience of Star Trek fans.

What This Means for the Studios

The backlash and outrage from this tone-deaf response by CBS and Paramount are going to ring them like a bell. It basically comes down to Paramount and CBS having this ivory tower attitude. Everything is fine so long as they line up and pay the money, but the moment they express any identity themselves, that has to be squashed and controlled because their business model doesn’t allow for it. It’s the most cynical business model there is.

This is like juggling soap bubbles, not herding cows. Dreams are meant to be shared. Star Trek in particular is all about that.  Take that away, and what have you got? So from an IP standpoint, a legal standpoint, CBS / Paramount had little choice. But they got there because they painted themselves into that corner.

Rumors of CBS / Paramount healing their relationship with fandom over Star Trek are most decidedly false. Putting the new Trek TV series behind a brand spanking new paywall created expressly for the purpose is not helping the brand. We predict a profound and lasting abandonment of the Star Trek franchise by its own fans.  At this point we have better things — and more fun things — to do with our money.

-30-

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. cbs and paramount can go screw itself

  2. Considering what the studios (Desilu especially) did to the creator of Star Trek, Gene Rodenberry, I tend to agree. Perhaps CBS and Paramount are being run by disguised Farengi? This would be just their style. They can’t seem to understand that Fanwork increases the value of their product at no real cost to them. Sadly, all they see is “Somebody else is playing with my Toys!” and react like the small children they seem to be.

What do you think?