In a tersely worded opinion that minces no words, the judge in the Axanar Star Trek fan film copyright case has rejected the fair use argument by the Axanar defense team, and has denied their request for summary judgment. Thus clearing the way for a jury trial.
“The Court finds that the Axanar Works have objective substantial similarity to the Star Trek Copyrighted Works… Under the extrinsic test, the Axanar Works are substantially similar to the Star Trek Copyrighted Works. . . . This conclusion finds strong support in Defendants’ intent for the Axanar Works. ‘Defendants expressly set out to create an authentic and independent Star Trek film that [stayed] true to Star Trek canon down to excruciating details’.” – U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner, via Deadline
The Axanar team tried their best to say that while their $1.5 million fan film did take place in the Star Trek universe, that it should be allowed under the fair use provisions since the story didn’t pertain to any characters or story which had been depicted within the film or TV universe. But there was a problem with that, the judge surmised. The main character, Captain Garth of Izar, is a character from an episode of the original Trek series called Whom Gods Destroy.
Axanar also argued that since the film hasn’t even been made yet, that Paramount has endured no injury, nor could the judge make a just comparison to any elements that may or may not be depicted. Well, okay, I guess that is technically true, but Team Axanar had made a short film called Prelude to Axanar. Plus, they had published footage online depicting a scene from the film.
Both of those were used by producer and star Alec Peters as a launching point for a series of crowdfunding campaigns that brought in over $1.5 million from fans. The scene has since been removed from YouTube.
The 20 minute Prelude to Axanar docudrama, however, can still be seen above, and it includes the use of Vulcans, Klingons, and even the ships and characters from Starfleet, which Paramount’s legal team stated in their presentation amounted to a gross number of copyright violations of the Star Trek Universe. As such, they are seeking damages of $150,000 for every violation in the film. Ouch.
The judge agreed with Paramount, stating there is no dispute elements in the film were copyrighted and owned by Paramount, and that Peters was “going where no man had gone before in producing Star Trek fan films, sought to make ‘a professional production … with a fully professional crew, many of whom have worked on Star Trek itself,’ and raised over a million dollars on crowdsourcing websites.”
Judge Klausner even took a jab at the Axanar team, and showing that he himself may be a Star Trek fan by stating, “The infringement claim can ‘live long and prosper’ if the Axanar works are substantially similar to the Star Trek copyrighted works.”
So what happens now? Judge Klausner stated in his opinion that a jury will have to review the case to determine if it is “both ordinary and reasonable to view” the Axanar film is “substantially similar” to Star Trek as depicted by the 50 year history of Paramount films, television, and other intellectual property published by the studio. It’s a victory for Paramount, to be sure, but not a total victory.
Paramount had request declaratory and injunctive relief in order to halt the film outright. But Klausner stated that such a decision would be premature, and Paramount must make its case to a jury and motion the court for such relief, should the jury rule in their favor.
So we now go to trial. Of course, this could easily be settled out of court, should Peters decide to give up. And he should, because the Force definitely isn’t with him. Oh wait, sorry, wrong franchise.