For anyone who remembers the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode “Cause and Effect,” it looks like a district court in California is caught in its own temporal loop.
Erin Ranahan, the pro bono attorney representing the “independent” Star Trek fan-film company Axanar Productions and its producer Alec Peters, has filed a second motion to dismiss the copyright infringement suit filed by CBS Corp. and Paramount Pictures last year.
Much like her first motion to dismiss filed in February, Ranahan says CBS and Paramount has failed to specify which copyrights Axanar and Peters allegedly violated.
“This defect not only prevents defendants from investigating each plaintiff’s standing (given that they claim to own different works), it greatly exaggerates defendants’ potential statutory damages exposure,” Ranahan said in the motion.
CBS and Paramount are seeking up to $150,000 in statutory damages for each instance of infringement, or actual damages. That could potentially cost Axanar hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.
The studios clamped down on Axanar, claiming the Star Trek-based fan-film not only violated copyrights owned by both studios, but also were used as a commercial venture for Peters and those involved in the production.
Through the production of a trailer and a short, Axanar raised more than $1.1 million in crowdfunding through the end of last year, renting space in Valencia, California, just outside Los Angeles, for what the production says costs about $12,500 per month.
As in her previous motion to dismiss, Ranahan once again claims that if there were any issues with the proposed “Star Trek: Axanar” film, the claims are premature, because the film has not been made yet. At the same time, Ranahan states that CBS and Paramount don’t make any claims that Axanar was going to profit from the fan-film by selling tickets or charging people to see it.
Suzi Marteny, an intellectual property lawyer in Tampa, Florida, told 1701News last month that a plaintiff in a copyright infringement suit does not need to show profit, and that if profit does come into the discussion, it’s usually in the damages phase once infringement has been determined. It’s unclear whether CBS and Paramount would have to show profit or intent to make money from the project in the initial copyright infringement suit.
CBS and Paramount did claim in its amended suit, however, that money was raised on the Star Trek copyrighted works to help fund a for-profit studio, which Axanar has informally dubbed “Ares Studios,” that it planned to rent and become involved with other for-profit ventures in the future.
Axanar has since announced it planned to sell that studio space to relieve itself of more than $250,000 in rent and other facility-based liabilities.
Ranahan also claims that other terms are simply not copyrightable. For instance, “Vulcan” is the “god of fire” in Roman mythology, and Nausicaa was a character in Homer’s “Odyssey.” Even the logo for the United Federation of Planets can’t be copyrights, she said, because it’s derivative of the United Nations logo.
CBS and Paramount also can’t claim copyright protection on characters like Garth of Izar, Capt. Robert April or even Gen. Chang (the Klingon antagonist played by Christopher Plummer in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”), because they are not distinctive enough, Ranahan said.
“None of these relatively minor characters are as distinctive as James Bond, Batman or Godzilla, because the characters named by plaintiffs cannot be associated with specific, consistently identifiable traits,” Ranahan said.
The earlier motion to dismiss was denied earlier this month after CBS and Paramount opted to file an amended complaint, which outlined in detail what they claimed to be infringing elements from Axanar. The studios will have an opportunity to respond within the next couple weeks.
Ranahan has requested a May 9 hearing date for Judge R. Gary Klausner to hear arguments involving Axanar’s motion to dismiss.
h/t Jody Wheeler