Monday, January 4, 2016

CBS/Paramount v Axanar? Some broad thoughts

So, everyone has been buzzing about the joint CBS/Paramount lawsuit filed Dec. 29 against Alec Peters and the "Axanar Works" "fan film" crowdfunded movie. There's been no similar action made against any other fan film that we have heard of—not Star Trek Continues, Farragut, Renegades or New Voyages/Phase II, at least. All of whom, and several more, I've been happy to help promote in the name of a passion fix for fans over this decade-long fallow time for pro Trek—ever since the "gray area" for them to exist as no-income projects was hashed out by New Voyages back in 2004.

But no, this legal action is specific. 

I'm not going to wade into the mushrooming detail points or the back-and-forth here—that's been all over the Interwebs and, five days on, cooler heads are starting to least in public comments and posts. Still, there are issues: Some point to the lawsuit as the answer to a threat perceived by the corporate rightsholders re: the scope or quality of Axanar as crossing the line (at least as has been promised)—but the legal issues, if that broad, would point to shutting down everyone. Some guess this is merely the first salvo against the biggest budget of fan films, and that either the owners enforce their property or they lose it—no middle ground. I hope there's no later, broader action—but, as I have always suspected, this is definitely not a typical mass Cease & Desist or broad-brush campaign (this legal action with outside attorneys is reportedly a second step from the owners after sending Axanar an earlier C&D, despite some direct contact). This is a step up: We've already seen the post-"Viacom divorce" split franchise parents actually act together for once in the lawsuit filing, making the "series or movie?" question moot on this. We'll just have to see where this goes.

I hope it goes quickly.... but as corporations, CBS and Paramount will be notoriously slow to offer any more details that would amount to "fighting it in the press"—although there have been follow-up statements. So we are going to be reduced to reading between the lines, and retconning for past clues and quotes, and a mostly one-sided "he said/they didn't" ... so far. The Intertubes were pretty hot the first day... and t
here are obviously a *ton* of Axanar donors and supporters out there who are not taking kindly to the action. But I have to know this is not 1996, and the big boxes are not blind to that blowback and the potential impact on fandom—and mainstream PR buzz— with a film and series enroute (especially the latter). Thus, the stakes go higher.  There were quick catcalls against big bad CBS, and hoots over the modern nature of franchise ownership vs. fans served after 50 years ... but within a couple days even some online observers started to look at both sides: the immediate hashtag #IStandWithAxanar has now been met with #IStandWithCBS a couple days later... and a host of memes that do not see the production as a martyr, in part in reaction to varied takes on Axanar's public business plan online. And beyond all that, don't make the mistake of thinking that all the world—even all fandom—hangs out on Facebook and blogs 24/7.

As observers, it's also a time to be mindful of who's words we are reading: Who are legitimate journalists versus wannabe bloggers on this, as the "media reports" come out. But it sure has gotten fandom talking—even the mainstream and trade media. And as my buddy John Champion has Facebooked after New Year's Day:  "Congratulations to the 87% of people I follow who have all become experts in the intricacies of federal copyright law in the last four days!"

There's a maxim I learned real early in Hollywood and the Trek business for whenever you try to push the envelope: Just don't do anything to make anyone say "no." A second would be: Don't make anyone ask their lawyer. The fan films exist at all due to the tangle of the legal "divorce" agreements, Paramount and CBS as Hollywood union/guild signatories, etc. … and yet simultaneously their acknowledged obvious value in the pop-culture conversation, especially in a fallow, non-series time. (FREE PROMO! How many tentpole-wannabes would kill for that?)

This is the last way anyone wanted to kick off the big 50th Trek anniversary year, with a movie and streaming series both on the way for summer and then spring—no matter what you may think of them now, sight unseen. So let's hope this gets settled quickly, quietly, and with as little damage to either fandom creativity or the corporate brand as possible.

I've said for a long time that the coming of new Trek weekly adventures, especially, may be what takes a lot of the air out of the fan-film balloon of the last decade, just from the lack of
newly diverted attention and dollars among the masses—without "CBS & Para" having done a thing. It's just human nature... even by fans.

I do know one thing. That filing and the frou-frou sure put me behind on my writing during the mid-holiday "dead week."

And you can bet this will be a deep-dive topic at our Portal 47 Ask Dr. Trek Roundtable in January!

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