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Creators of $1 million Star Trek fan film sued by CBS and Paramount

Creators of $1 million Star Trek fan film sued by CBS and Paramount

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While Star Trek: Beyond is grabbing headlines ahead of its premiere next summer, it's not the only Star Trek movie currently in the works. Axanar, a fan-made film set in the same universe as the sci-fi series, has earned more than a million dollars through crowdfunding platforms this year and drawn support from previous Star Trek actors and current Star Trek fans alike. But while Axanar's creators argue that they can use CBS's sci-fi setting because their movie will be "totally non-commercial," Paramount Pictures and CBS, who own the rights to Star Trek, apparently disagree — the two companies have sued Axanar's creators for copyright infringement.

"The Axanar Works infringe Plaintiffs' works by using innumerable copyrighted elements of Star Trek, including its settings, characters, species, and themes," the suit reads, claiming that its producers have "unabashedly" taken the intellectual property to ape the "look and feel" of a Star Trek movie. Certainly, Star Trek is more than just an inspiration for the production, with creator Alec Peters taking existing characters and settings wholesale in a bid to make a prequel to 1966's Star Trek series. Axanar is set 21 years before the first Star Trek episode, and follows Starfleet captain Kelvar Garth, a man who would become a hero to the young James T. Kirk. A 21-minute primer already released on YouTube — titled Prelude to Axanar — features Romulans, Klingons, and Federation forces, flying ships and landing on worlds that could come straight out of the Next Generation, Voyager, or Enterprise.

Alec Peters has defended the project soon after news of the lawsuit broke, reiterating that its creators would not be able to make money directly from the movie, and clearly specifying that Axanar is a fan film. In a statement, Peters said such fan films were "labors of love that keep fans engaged, entertained, and keep favorite characters alive in the hearts of fans." Like many other fan films, Peters says, Axanar went into production "based on a very long history and relationship between fandom and studios," where the latter gave the former the leeway to operate in the universes they loved. "We're not doing anything new here," he said.

CBS has a new Star Trek TV series for 2017

But while CBS has been content to let Star Trek fan films slides in the past, Axanar has financial backing, actor support, and professional-grade effects previously unseen in amateur productions. The lawsuit also comes as CBS recommits to the Star Trek franchise: the network announced earlier this year that it was producing a new Star Trek TV series for 2017, to air exclusively on its CBS All Access streaming platform. In an increasingly competitive streaming market, a new Star Trek gives CBS a legitimate weapon to rival big hitters on Netflix and Hulu, and a way to drive subscribers to its fledgling service. Paramount, too, won't want a slick fan film distracting potential viewers before its third rebooted Star Trek movie hits theaters in July.

Axanar was scheduled to begin filming in January 2016, and Peters says he hopes to work out the situation in a fair and amicable manner, but the combined legal might of a major movie studio and a major TV network converging on a film that so clearly uses both of their copyrighted materials may put Peters in an impossible situation — his own Kobiyashi Maru.