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Are Expectations Too High In ‘Axanar’ Lawsuit Response?

With an answer due just days from now, Michael Hinman looks a what we might see

It’s been quiet on the Axanar front lately. And while many expect that will change next week when the legal team representing the Star Trek fan film files an answer in the copyright infringement suit from CBS Corp. and Paramount Pictures, they might come out of it a bit disappointed.

Since CBS and Paramount sued the “Axanar” production as well as its main producer, Alec Peters, last December, the fan production has brought in pro bono representation from Winston & Strawn, and even brokered an agreement with the studios agreeing to stop all production work on “Axanar” in exchange for more time to file its answer.

The deadline for that answer is Feb. 22. And unless there is a countersuit filed within that answer against CBS and Paramount, we probably shouldn’t get our hopes up for any huge bombshell in that filing with the U.S. District Court.

While I’m not a lawyer, nor do I even claim to be one “by training” as Peters does, I have covered many a court case in my newspaper days, including those that typically end up in federal court like this one. In most of the cases I’ve observed, the initial response from the defense is nothing more than a series of “admitted” and “denied” statements. Basically, the legal team will pore through the initial complaint filed by CBS and Paramount, and admit to the things they say are true (usually obvious things, like Axanar Productions is a California corporation), and deny claims that Axanar, Peters and 20 unnamed defendants have infringed on the copyright of CBS and Paramount.

It’s highly unlikely the Axanar legal team will reveal too much of its defense in these papers, as they probably expect any motion they file to dismiss the case would be denied. The judge then, at a later date, will start to schedule pre-trial motions and the like. But even then, it could be months, if not longer, before this case really sees its day in court. If it ever gets there.

And that’s the thing. I’m really don’t believe the judge in this case will even have a chance to rule on CBS and Paramount’s injunction request to halt all the Axanar activity. That’s because both Peters and a member of his legal team have both indicated they are pushing for a settlement. Erin Ranahan, a Los Angeles-based attorney from Winston & Strawn told the legal trade publication Law360 that there was “room for us to reach some kind of amicable settlement.”

“These aren’t parties that should be antagonistic with each other,” she added.

Peters himself told 1701News earlier this month that “we’re hoping for … a settlement. We definitely don’t want to have to go into litigation, and that’s just a road … it’s one that we’re prepared for, but we don’t want to be doing.”

In fact, outside of the project’s director, Robert Meyer Burnett, trying to goad me into some silly interview with him on this topic, the Axanar side has been rather quiet in the last several days. Could Ranahan have finally clamped down on her clients to stop speaking out so publicly, or is settlement closer than what we think?

Only the lawyers from both sides know that at this point. But settlement, I’m sure, isn’t what Winston & Strawn were looking for when they took on the case pro bono. Surely, Ranahan wanted to use this case to try and open up some other copyright loopholes which could be quite effective in future cases. But there would be no precedence-setting in a settlement.

No matter what happens, I would be absolutely shocked if “Axanar” is ever produced, at least with any of the Star Trek elements CBS and Paramount have cried foul about. I would be a little less surprised (but still surprised) if they were allowed to keep any of the money they raised on the back of the Star Trek intellectual property. But settlements can sometimes have some astonishing results.

So who knows … maybe there is indeed more to come. Much more to come.

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