|I know – I'm mixing my franchises!|
Merry Christmas, Mr. Peters!
For those of you that have been under a rock, here's the skinny according to Variety, io9 and The Hollywood Reporter.
1. Mr. Peters created a story called "Axanar", based on the original Star Trek series.
2. Mr. Peters decided to create a "fan-film" version of his story.
3. Mr. Peters insisted that he had CBS's blessing for the project.
4. Mr. Peters raised in excess of $1.1 million through crowdfunding on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
5. CBS and Paramount file suit in federal court (on Christmas Day) seeking an injunction against the film and asking damages for “direct, contributory and vicarious copyright infringement.”.
That the Axanar project uses copyrighted material is not in question. Any story set in the Star Trek universe, by definition, uses copyrighted material. What is at issue is the permissible scope of said project – or the scope, presumably, of any "fan-based" Star Trek project for that matter.
According to The Wrap, here's where things stood back in August:
"Peters said he and his team met with CBS last week but the network didn’t offer any specific guidelines concerning what his crew can and cannot do — the network simply told him that they can’t make money off the project."
So with no actual approval, and a warning not to make money, Peters went forward. Here's what his on-line pitch said, in part:
"While some may call it a 'fan film' as we are not licensed by CBS, Axanar has professionals working in front and behind the camera, with a fully-professional crew — many of whom have worked on Star Trek itself — who ensure Axanar will be the quality of Star Trek that all fans want to see."
"Professional", meaning "paid". So Peters freely admits that individuals and companies will be making money off of Axanar. Which is in direct opposition to being told by CBS that they can't make money off the project. I'm sure Peters will cite the idea that no actual profit will be declared at the end of things. Which is all well and good, and yet over $1 million will be in various pockets. Call it what you will but a lot of people will get paid by exploiting a property they don't own.
Let me play Devil's advocate for a moment. By Axanar's way of thinking, there are any number of ways to make money off of Star Trek without getting one of those pesky (and costly) licenses. Here's two scenarios at opposite ends of the spectrum:
I'm a graphic designer and illustrator. I could create a portfolio of 20 Star Trek illustrations and set up a Kickstarter to fund my work. For a $20 donation, say, a donor would receive a printed copy of the portfolio. I would pay myself and my printing company for services rendered – like Axanar pays its people for their services – at the rate of $20 per unit. I'd get paid, the printer would get paid, but no actual "profit" would be declared. But if I sold a thousand units – er, excuse me... if I had a thousand DONORS... my print company and I are collectively ahead by $20,000 despite no profit being declared.
Small potatoes, I know, but how about this? What if a studio didn't bother buying the rights to Star Trek but proceeded with a Kickstarter in which they raised $50 million? The studio would then proceed to spend the money on making the film – paying actors, crew members, CGI artists, etc – up to the $50 million mark. The Kickstarter donors would get a copy of the film on DVD – their "gift" – and the film would have no actual "profit" since they spent every dime on production. All 500 million dimes.
By Peters' figuring, either scenario would be perfectly acceptable.
Except that they wouldn't be, would they? Because as soon as a project is not funded out of pocket (like most Trek fan films have been so far) but rather by going to the public and asking for money in the name of a property one does not own, that project crosses a line. A very clear line that most non-lawyers can instantly grasp but one that Peters, with his law degree, apparently cannot. Income is income, period.
What does Peters think? In his own words:
“CBS has a long history of accepting fan films,” he said. “I think ‘Axanar’ has become so popular that CBS realizes that we’re just making their brand that much better.”
"So popular"? According to the Axanar Kickstarter and Indiegogo pages, 16,039 people have contributed money to the Axanar production. Out of the tens of millions of Star Trek fans around the world, 16,039 represents less than 1% of the fans out there by anyone's reckoning. Yet Peters' ego leads him to think that his project is so important that it is "making their brand that much better". Peters must really suck at math, alas, because one percent doesn't mean much of anything. And the 1.5 million views Peters touts? Views aren't approvals. They're just views. I "viewed" Into Darkness and hated it.
It's worth noting that despite Peters' law degree, he once sued a detractor and lost because apparently he didn't know that others were allowed to voice opinions different from his. You, know... that whole hard-to-understand First Amendment thing. So when he insisted that CBS was just groovy with a Kickstarter, anyone with half a brain should have questioned that opinion. If you are one of the "Doe defendants" referred to in the suit, you should have gotten different counsel.
So now there's a lot of money at stake. The suit asks for $150,000 in damages for each of the four infringements they claim, for a total of $600,000. They also ask for "reasonable attorney's fees", which will probably be big bucks so I can't help but think that we all know where that $1 million+ that was raised will end up.
I know a lot of people will actually side with Peters as the underdog and see the giant corporations as slapping down the little guy. Needless to say, I don't see it that way. I think Paramount and CBS are sending a very simple, specific message:
If you want to make a buck off of our property, get a license like everyone else or leave our stuff alone.
After all, ask yourself how you would feel if you owned something and someone ripped it off without asking or paying for the privilege?
And then ask yourself this: how profound must ones' arrogance/stupidity be to think that they were going to get away with a project of this size? IMO, the only surprise anyone should have is that it took CBS and Paramount this long to respond.
Here's the complete complaint:
Alec Peters is screwed
And here is Peters' on-line assurance from August that everything was just great:
Alec Peters explains it all