If Paramount and CBS are indeed in the process of settling its copyright infringement lawsuit against an “independent” fan-film, it will now have to settle two.
That’s because the attorney representing Axanar Productions and its principal, Alec Peters, have filed a countersuit against Paramount Pictures and CBS Corp., claiming that not only has the fan-film not violated any of the Star Trek copyrights, but that the studios should be barred from suing Axanar over it again in the future.
“Plaintiffs have not and will not suffer any market harm as a result of the creation and distribution of defendants’ work,” Axanar attorney Erin Ranahan wrote in her counterclaim, filed with the federal court on Monday. “Instead, these works offer free promotional value to plaintiffs. These works are not intended to be commercialized, and will not be competing against plaintiffs’ works in movie theaters or otherwise sold for profit.”
Ranahan also issued a series of defenses against the original copyright infringement claim by CBS and Paramount claiming, among other things, that the studios can’t prove they actually own the copyright, and that the studios “forfeited or abandoned their copyrights.” On top of that, Ranahan also cited defenses such as “fair use” of the copyright, and protections of the First, Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, covering both free speech and due process.
Axanar has asked for unspecified damages in its countersuit, but is seeking actual damages and attorney fees.
The counterclaim and defense filing comes just days after “Star Trek” and “Star Trek: Into Darkness” director J.J. Abrams announced that the Axanar lawsuit was “going away.”
“We started talking about it, that this was not an appropriate way to deal with fans,” Abrams said during a “Star Trek: Beyond” fan event Friday night in Los Angeles. “The fans should be celebrating this thing. We all, fans of Star Trek, are part of this world.”
In a joint statement issued to 1701News and other outlets within hours of that event clarified Abrams’ statement, saying that both sides were actively pursuing settlement talks, and that the studios would create fan-film guidelines to allow the practice among the small segment of Star Trek fandom to continue in some form.
An Axanar spokesman said Monday’s countersuit was not meant to disrupt those settlement talks, but instead to continue on a court-ordered schedule of filings, until the case is officially over.
“This filing was necessary because, despite J.J. Abrams’ assurance that the lawsuit would be ‘going away,’ and confirmation that CBS is in settlement talks and finally working on fan-film guidelines, Paramount and CBS have not yet dismissed the lawsuit,” the spokesman said in a prepared statement. “Axanar Productions must therefore meet deadlines set by the court and proceed as if the lawsuit will continue until the situation is resolved.”
In its response to the Paramount and CBS lawsuit, Axanar admits to making the short-film “Prelude to Axanar” and its intentions to produce a feature-length fan-film they have called “Axanar” (although promotional materials continue to call it “Star Trek: Axanar”). Axanar also admits to raising more than $1 million in fan donations to produce both “Prelude” and “Axanar.”
However, Ranahan says her clients deny that the “Prelude” short “copies any protected expression from any of the Star Trek works,” or that it is “substantially similar to, is derivative of, or infringes any of the Star Trek works.”
Ranahan also gets specific on one of the studios’ claims that the robe Gary Graham’s character Soval wears in what is described as the “Vulcan Scene” short contains “ancient Vulcan script.” Instead, she said, the robe contains “Chinese letters.”
In her countersuit, Ranahan invoked words written by “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry for a book of short stories published in 1976, “Star Trek: The New Voyages,” where he referred to the creation and small-scale publication of fan-fiction at the time the “loveliest happening of all for us.” To note, however, Roddenberry was not the copyright owner of Star Trek at the time, and outside of books like this approved by Paramount, fan-fiction had very limited distribution methods before the advent of the Internet.
Throughout the past 50 years, CBS and Paramount “tolerated Star Trek fan-fiction in all its glory,” Ranahan said, “likely recognizing that it was only fueling the dedicated Star Trek fans” and not harming the studios. In fact, Ranahan points out, until it sued Axanar, Paramount nor CBS had ever “filed a lawsuit against any Star Trek fan in connection with that fan’s efforts to contribute to the wealth of Star Trek fan-fiction that currently exists.”
Ranahan added that the lawsuit itself was “at odds with the Star Trek ideals of inclusion, tolerance, unity and peace” because it “sets out to destroy and exclude one of Star Trek’s biggest fans,” Alec Peters.
“Mr. Peters believed he was operating within the tolerated realm of Star Trek fan-fiction, but nevertheless, reached out to CBS on multiple occasions in an effort to seek guidelines about the production,” Ranahan said. She claims Peters met with CBS brand manager and licensing director John Van Citters in 2010, and CBS consumer products executive vice president Liz Kalodner in 2012.
He said he also met with consumer products vice president Bill Burke at a Star Trek convention in Las Vegas in 2013, and chatted with CBS home video executive vice president Ken Ross at the 2014 premiere of “Prelude” as San Diego Comic-Con.
“Though CBS would not provide specific guidelines, Mr. Peters understood from these discussions that as long as his works stayed non-commercial, they would be tolerated,” Ranahan said, “And that CBS would let him know if he had ‘gone too far.'”
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.
The next deadline in the case, according to legal observer Janet Gershen-Siegel, is June 8 when CBS and Paramount will have to decide whether to add any more defendants to its initial complaint.
Need to catch up on the “Star Trek: Axanar” copyright infringement lawsuit? Visit our easy-reference guide to all of 1701News’ coverage and commentaries by clicking here.