CBS Corp. and Paramount Pictures first went their separate ways at the end of 2005 — and they might be doing it again.
Although "Star Trek: Beyond" producer J.J. Abrams insists the copyright infringement lawsuit the studios filed against an "independent" fan-film was "going away," it seems Abrams was really only able to speak on behalf of one of the plaintiffs. The other, CBS, is far from ready to settle. And a countersuit filed by Axanar Productions and its principal Alec Peters might have been enough to convince CBS to continue the lawsuit whether Paramount is on board or not.
One source connected to CBS who asked not to be named said the countersuit "acts in bad faith during settlement talks."
"It's an inflammatory thing that will cause CBS to withdraw from settlement discussions and continue the fight," the source said.
Neither CBS nor Paramount were willing to settle the case for anything less than the complete dissolution of the Axanar project, multiple sources tell 1701News. That came especially after a recent major win where a judge completely denied an entire motion to dismiss filed by Axanar's attorneys. That put both CBS and Paramount in a superior negotiating position when it came to settlement talks, especially with what could be a cost-prohibitive discovery process looming for Axanar.
Abrams, however, did not want negative publicity — no matter how small — having any affect on "Beyond," which hits theaters July 22. After learning about the lawsuit from "Beyond" director Justin Lin — himself only citing a Hollywood Reporter story that scratched the surface of the copyright infringement lawsuit — Abrams used his clout with Paramount to convince the studio to settle the case now, and likely for terms Paramount was not interested in.
CBS, however, doesn't have the same relationship with Abrams as Paramount. Abrams is not involved with the television rights for Star Trek, which are owned by CBS, thus his influence is far weaker. Yet, CBS was begrudgingly following along, because if it didn't, it would lose Paramount as a co-plaintiff.
"But that doesn't matter," another source told 1701News. "Most of the copyrights Axanar (violated) are owned by CBS, not Paramount. CBS has a solid case on its own, and could lose Paramount without a single legal headache. I'm quite sure CBS is not going to settle."
In fact, it seems Axanar Productions might be drawing the same conclusion. The group's official Twitter account on Wednesday defended its countersuit by telling followers that "until CBS joins Paramount in wishing to drop the suit, we need to follow the legalities to the letter."
Yes, well, until CBS joins Paramount in wishing to drop the suit, we need to follow the legalities to the letter. https://t.co/GvktaozpHB
— Axanar Productions (@StarTrekAxanar) May 25, 2016
Abrams dropped a bombshell on the Axanar case (which started last December when CBS and Paramount sued the producers of "Star Trek: Axanar" for copyright infringement) during a fan event last weekend celebrating "Star Trek: Beyond" by declaring a near-future end to the lawsuit.
"We started talking about it, that this was not an appropriate way to deal with fans," Abrams said. "The fans should be celebrating this thing. We all, fans of Star Trek, are part of this world."
However, Axanar attorney Erin Ranahan responded to that statement with a countersuit less than three days later seeking unspecified damages and attorney fees. She also laid out Axanar's defense, claiming that neither CBS nor Paramount could prove they own the copyrights to Star Trek, that the studios "forfeited and abandoned their copyrights," and that Axanar's usage of Star Trek constituted "fair use" of copyright laws.
Ranahan also claimed CBS and Paramount violated Axanar's and Peters' rights under the First, Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, covering both freedom of speech and due process.
Following Abrams' statement, CBS and Paramount issued a joint statement saying they were "pleased to confirm we are in settlement discussions," and that they were both "working on a set of fan-film guidelines," without adding any further details.
CBS, however, does not seem to be a fan of fan-film guidelines either, according to the first source.
"The problem from CBS' point of view is that fan-film rules means that they then have to devote manpower and resources to enforcement," the source said. It would be far easier for the studio to simply disallow fan-films altogether.
Judge R. Gary Klausner denied Axanar's motion to dismiss on May 10, and set a trial date for January. In the meantime, both sides were ordered into settlement talks — typical of civil cases of this nature — as well as developing a plan for discovery that would allow both sides to gather evidence to support its claims.
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