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‘Axanar’ Must Stop Trying To Control The Conversation

There’s passion, but then there’s crossing a line

Last weekend, 1701News was provided what was claimed to be an early draft of the screenplay for “Star Trek: Axanar.”

“Axanar,” in case you missed it, was an “independent” fan-film production that has raised more than $1.1 million in crowdfunding to create what was supposed to be a feature-length look into the backstory of the original “Star Trek” episode “Whom Gods Destroy.”

I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with the script. I skimmed through it, and to me, it really looked like something you should expect from a passionate fan. There’s nothing wrong with having that passion, and certainly nothing wrong with directing that passion toward a fan project such as “Axanar.” And if “Axanar” had stayed that production, I doubt you would see a single byline from me even talking about it.

But “Axanar” did overreach. At least according to CBS Corp. and Paramount Pictures, which sued the production and Alec Peters for copyright infringement. While I might not be a loyal watcher of fan productions, I am a supporter. Through the great work of writer John Kirk, 1701News has provided a great window into a number of these productions, including “Axanar.” If you look through our archives, you’ll see the success of their crowdfunding campaigns. You’ll see thoughts from the actors and others involved in the production. And it’s a celebration of fandom.

Because I find the fan-film community important to fandom, it really disturbed me that CBS and Paramount were so upset by what they say Axanar Production and Peters were doing, that those studios would take the very unusual step of suing them. Unfortunately for Axanar, my biggest concern was not for them, but for other fan-films. And on Jan. 2, I shared those thoughts in an op-ed piece that warned “‘Axanar’ Will Ruin Fan Trek For Everyone.”

The comments on that column were, well, they were massive. At least for us. We don’t really promote the idea of comments, but we had hundreds. And of course, there were people who supported what I said, and those who felt I was completely out of my mind. There were some good discussions, and there was a lot of snark — many times by me. Not that I’m snarky by nature. But after nearly 18 years of doing entertainment journalism online, I feel I have to at least try to be entertaining, even if you might not necessarily agree with what I say.

We opened those comments for everyone here. Yes, there were disagreements. Yes, no one spoke in a vacuum — everyone, including me, could be and were challenged on things that were said. It might not have changed anyone’s minds, but it’s discussion. It’s open. And it’s what free conversation is all about.

However, over the past couple of months, I have witnessed the opposite from Axanar. They have closed ranks, and removed people from their social media areas who were simply a member of other Facebook groups that may not necessarily support Axanar. Peters himself has thrown around threats of lawsuits, including one he made to several people (but not me directly) threatening that I would face a lawsuit if I moved forward with covering the leaked screenplay we received.

Of course, his position was that I was going to publish the entire screenplay online. That was never the plan. In all the years I have worked online, I have never published a screenplay, even when a writer of said screenplay asked me to do it. That’s not what I do. I spent my early years in entertainment reporting providing spoilers for shows like “Earth: Final Conflict,” the various Stargate programs, and especially “Battlestar Galactica.” Where did those spoilers come from? Leaked scripts. I wouldn’t publish the scripts. Instead, I would take out information I felt readers would find fascinating, and hopefully whet their appetite to see more on the screen.

In fact, that’s why people would leak those scripts to me. We weren’t in the business of giving things away. We were in the business of trying to bring people to these science-fiction projects. When I started Airlock Alpha as SyFy World in 1998, I could count the number of genre shows on one hand, and that included both “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: Voyager.” Today, there are so many programs in the genre, it’s impossible for me as one person to keep up.

So the fact that I would even publish a script now is ludicrous, even one in which Axanar likely couldn’t legitimately make a copyright claim on based on the pending lawsuit CBS and Paramount have filed against it.

Once that aspect was cleared up, it turned into claims that somehow it’s illegal to possess a leaked copy of the script. It’s not. Somehow, it’s suddenly illegal to report on aspects of the script in a news story. It’s not. Somehow, we would be in serious legal trouble if we post a review of the script, even if it’s done by an independent filmmaker who has actually wrote and produced movies. We’re not.

When it seemed those claims weren’t getting as much traction as the Axanar people wanted, it turned into “What is the news value of an old script?” And I’ll be honest, that’s a very legitimate question. And one I’m sure our coverage of this script will help readers understand.

It was a great question, only to be tarnished by claims that my reporting is somehow a “personal vendetta” against Peters. I am not sure what that vendetta is. I don’t think I have any active personal vendettas against anyone, to be honest. Do I dislike people? Sure. Do I dislike Alec Peters? Sure. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to be fair to him. Even in social media circles, people might poke a little fun at Peters and this whole situation, and might be a little hard on him. However, if anyone jumps to things that are completely unfair, like unfounded claims and serious accusations without any proof (or even a properly filed complaint), I’m one of the first to jump up and say it’s not right.

A couple of years ago or so, and I had to look this up to refresh my memory, 1701News covered the fundraising involved in purchasing a rotting, heavily damaged set piece from the original “Star Trek” known as the Galileo. Peters was involved in that, and to be honest, I don’t really remember much of the coverage. When I’m working in both newspaper and online, which I was at the time, I could easily generate close to 750 to 800 byline stories in a single year. I can’t even begin to remember details of all of them.

I do recall that Peters seemed to be really nasty with me when I asked questions about the Galileo. I do believe by then I had expressed my astonishment that anyone would even want this set piece, when restoration would have to practically replace about 95 percent of the original prop. And while I might not have liked the response, it doesn’t mean I care. I never recall ever meeting Peters in person, don’t know much about him except what has been discussed over the past couple of months. Seeing how he talks to people, including how he talks indirectly to me through other people, I don’t want to know him.

And sorry, that is not anywhere close enough information for me to have a “personal vendetta.” There are people who actually wronged me in my life, and one or two who did some very despicable things. But I don’t even have a personal vendetta against them. I don’t have time for such drama and nonsense. If I wanted all that, I would sign up for a season of “Real Housewives.”

It will be interesting to see how this copyright infringement case turns out. Although we haven’t seen the defense strategy yet, I will be surprised if it ever makes it to trial. But no matter what happens, we will be here covering it. And if Peters or anyone else from the Axanar team feel they can bully a news outlet into silence with threats of lawsuits and such, think again.

While entertainment reporting is definitely not the same as writing in a war zone, or doing investigative pieces that might help change the world, it is something people do enjoy reading, and maybe even help them relax. While I might not be dealing with the Pentagon Papers or a presidential scandal, I still have a duty to our readers. And that is to provide the news they are looking for in a fair and accurate way. And to not cave to legal threats or anything else that might try to stop me from performing those duties.

Yeah, some might say we’re brave to “take a risk.” But we’re not taking a risk. Our combined team here has decades of reporting experience, and really, this script leak? It’s a standard story using standard practices. There’s really nothing unusual about it at all. The First Amendment, and by extension, Fair Use laws in the federal copyright code, absolutely and explicitly protect our coverage of this screenplay.

So sit back and enjoy the coverage. And don’t just read what we have to say, get all the information you can, so you can draw your own, highly educated conclusions.



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