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Christian Hansen said on January 3rd, 2016 at 12:30 am

Wow, I remember hearing about this a while back. While not a huge Trekkie, I do admire fan films for their sheer ambition and love for the source material. I remember thinking it looked pretty good. Sad to see that real world ugliness has stepped in.

Not to imply that this is big evil Paramount’s fault, just that it’s unfortunate that there were things going on behind the curtain with Axanar.

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Steve from the internets said on January 3rd, 2016 at 6:34 am

thanks for this, Mr Seavey. I was not aware of the production company’s skeeviness and had, from the little I’d seen about this on the internets, fallen for the “evil company smashes fan production” narrative they’d been selling.

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One additional thing: I sourced pretty much all the Axanar and Paramount quotes within the post, but I noticed that I missed one–the director’s quotes about the Abrams reboot were from io9, back in July. Everything else is pretty much covered.

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“…Production company’s skeeviness…”

Now that you mention it….

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Oh you sweet, summer child. You left out that CBS is looking for actual money in damages. They’re probably looking to bankrupt Peters. I also want to get even more cynical. Peters was never going to make that movie. Both Chris Gossett and Tony Todd bowed out, not because of creative differences, but ethical ones.

I’d also mention in the FAQ that Peters was paying himself a sizable salary.

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The FAQ does say, “They want an injunction and punitive damages for copyright infringement.” But yes, to clarify further, they’re asking for $150K per instance of infringement “or damages as proven”. It seems pretty likely that if they aren’t actively trying to bankrupt him, they’re at least putting the fear of Khan into him to make him more likely to settle.

The other things…well, I didn’t feel confident enough in sourcing them to include them, but certainly I encourage people to explore the information available beyond what’s been said here. I don’t think I’ve left out anything exculpatory to Peters or Axanar, definitely.

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Easy to source the fact that Peters has been paying himself and his associates nice salaries for remaining in pre-production. It’s in the financials they released to the donors two weeks ago. He fully admits it. He did so the year before as well. That’s why CBS said back in August that he was “commercially profiting” from their property, and that they would not permit that. It’s in The Wrap. He had plenty of warning; he just spat in their face and kept paying himself our donation money. Good riddance to him.

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Michael P said on January 3rd, 2016 at 7:21 pm

I do have to laugh that this supposed professional takes time and space in his rationale of his fan film to whinge about orbital vs. planetary drydocks.

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Lord Riven said on January 3rd, 2016 at 9:32 pm

I am torn between wanting to support a viable system of copyright and my hatred of the Abrams Star Trek films tying to my dream of a unified Star Trek canon that doesn’t look like an Apple Store.

Am I weak?

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For what it’s worth, the Axanar team has been incredibly transparent about what they are doing with the donations: daily blog posts, biweekly podcasts and an annual financial report. This doesn’t smack of “skeeviness” to me. I don’t think one can seriously claim that Alec or the others were doing this for financial gain, there have to be thousands of easier ways to get richer quicker.

As a donor I appreciate that CBS/Paramount have a right to protect their intellectual property, but I am disappointed that they would choose to sue after the Axanar team regularly reached out to them. Perhaps I am naive, but I do hope that a mutually beneficial settlement can be reached.

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@Roger: That very transparency is part of their problem: Peters transparently accepted a $40K a year salary, and is transparently exchanging copies of the DVD for monetary donations. In other words, he’s transparently selling DVDs and paying himself from the proceeds. That’s the absolute Number One thing that you can never, ever, ever, ever do on a fan production of a Paramount property, and they’ve been telling him that since at least August of last year.

Believe me, I understand completely being disappointed. I understand wanting to find a solution that allows Axanar to still be released. But I think we’re well past that point, and Peters has only himself to blame.

As for the “skeeviness”, I will point out again that Tony Todd left the project back in September, and has been quite vocal on Twitter in saying that part of his reason was that Peters spent a lot more time fundraising than he actually did working on the project. Peters is still using Todd’s likeness to promote the project and solicit donations. That is skeevy, full stop. It is raising money under false pretenses, and there’s absolutely no legitimate reason I can think of to continue claiming that Todd is still in the cast three months after he left.

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As a donor, I do not have a problem with full-time staff being paid a salary. Whether it violates CBS’ unwritten rule against making a profit, we will have to see.

As for the DVD’s, other fan productions have also offered perks to their donors. I recall getting a digital download of Renegades for my donation. Looking at my old emails, I see they also did DVDs for higher level donors.

Regarding Mr Todd, he was in Prelude, a fact that cannot be undone. As far as I can see, the promotional material only ever mentions him as a Prelude cast member. I have also seen his tweets and yes, I do wonder what the differences he is referring to consist of. But to be fair, we should also mention that there is another side to this story, as Alec and others have said that they were simply not wiling/able to pay the $15000 day rate Mr Todd was requesting for his further involvement. The truth, I suspect involves a little but from collumn A and a little bit from collumn B.

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As a donor, you may not have a problem with it. But the owners of the intellectual property clearly do, and bluntly, they are acting entirely within their rights to make that decision. Other productions might provide copies of their work to donors, but they don’t use that money to pay themselves a salary. It’s clear that this is a qualitative difference, not simply a quantitative one–it makes a mockery of the “no profit gained” rule. Once you’ve decided that paying yourself is an “expense”, then there’s no limit to how much money you can earn off a film and still not make a profit. It’s a trick the entertainment industry is entirely familiar with, and not likely to be fooled by.

And you’re incorrect: On the Kickstarter, Todd is listed in a section simply labeled, “The Cast”. No mention is made that he only appeared in the Prelude, and the present tense is used to describe his role in the production. The Indiegogo page, which is older, lists him in the Prelude cast, but Kickstarter makes no such distinctions. Anyone reading that page would reasonably conclude that it’s a list of the current cast.

It’s also worth mentioning that Todd has disputed the “$15,000 per day” claim. Again, there’s clearly a degree of “he said/he said” to this discussion, but when Peters is the center of so many disputes over the basic facts of the situation, and when he reports so many things differently from so many people, it begins to cast some doubt on his credibility.

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I’ll just mention that the Indiegogo campaign is the most recent one, I suppose before that he really was a cast member.

As for the no-profit rule, it’s important to remember that this is something that CBS has come up with, so I guess it’s up to them to define it. It’s just a shame that they didn’t give clear guidance to Alec when he asked them.

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They did. At all times. From the beginning, they made it clear, in Peters’ own words, that “Paramount is okay with this so long as no money is being made.” Charitably, you can choose to believe that he was confused about what “no money is being made” meant, and failed to seek adequate clarification. Uncharitably, you can make a reasonable case that he cared more about making money than about his “labor of love”. Either way, Paramount bears no responsibility for his decision to keep going in the face of clear signals that a lawsuit was coming.

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Christophe Pettus said on January 4th, 2016 at 11:35 am

I’ll also mention that while Paramount / CBS may have had a policy of allowing fan productions that did not sell DVDs for profit, or pay salaries, that’s not a legal decision. They have the legal right to shut down a fan production simply for using their trademarks and copyrights; they don’t need to even be as generous as they have been.

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I don’t think one can seriously claim that Alec or the others were doing this for financial gain, there have to be thousands of easier ways to get richer quicker.

Eh, I think there’s an excluded middle there. If they expected to get rich off this, it’s clearly illegal (or worthy of a civil penalty or whatever the correct term for IP infringement is). But even if he’s just pocketing $40K per year – which is more than a living wage for an individual but not rolling in dough, but on the other hand he’s not just pocketing that, he’s also pocketing DVD sales apparently – it’s making money. That falls afoul of CBS’s policies and general IP infringement case law, I’m pretty sure.

If he was independently wealthy, or was working a full-time job and doing this on the side, it would be easier to claim that it’s entirely a labor of love. He’s not.

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Some of them are claiming that Paramount would lose a lawsuit anyway because it was fan enthusiasm that kept Trek going in the 70s so the property really belongs to them anyway.

Yeah, fans. Go with that. That should work out just swell for ya.

(Gods, fans can be such morons.)

Oh, and at least one fan has suggested “doing a Kickstarter” to buy the rights to Star Trek completely.

Bwaaa-haaa-haaa-haaa!

(Correction: Stunningly stupid morons.)

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Admiral Snackbar said on January 4th, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Is it really that stupid? I bought Space: 1999 and some Pogs last year for a couple of pizzas and a 12-pack.

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If you really had a great script written and actors and crew ready to go, you could make a movie that wasn’t Star Trek. Film a generic space opera that comes pretty close to Trek with all the serial numbers filed off. However, all that fundraising pretty much relies on the Star Trek name and fanbase, doesn’t it? Any way you cut it these guys are making money off of someone else’s copyright.

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I’ve not looked into the detail, but to my understanding DVD sales are not being pocketed – DVDs were offered in return for crowd-funding donations to make the film. I think Peters giving himself a salary was simply asking for trouble, but given that funding had gone above a million(?) dollars I don’t think was greedy or squandering funders’ money. Just being incredibly unwise.

It’s a shame, though, that there wasn’t enough sense to see that calling it a professional production was also blatantly asking for trouble. Calling it ‘a fan film with professional values’ might have been safer.

Regardless, what annoys me though, is that I funded the Indiegogo campaign in August figuring that it was less of a risk given that Paramount/CBS hadn’t already stamped on it after the original Kickstarter!

And when it comes down to it, if the film never gets made it will be great shame and a great loss to the franchise. The original Prelude to Axanar and the very brief bit of footage that we’ve seen are simply beautiful pieces that demonstrate a real understanding of Star Trek.

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@Robin: The argument Paramount seems to be making is that the cash is basically fungible–fans are getting product in exchange for donations, and the producer is drawing a salary out of those funds. In Peters’ mind, that may not be the same thing as the producer making a profit from the sale of DVDs, but I’m honestly not sure how you could differentiate the two apart from semantically…

…especially when the producer is saying different things to different people about whether it’s a professional production that needs money to pay salaries or a fan film that’s nothing more than a love letter to Star Trek.

I mostly feel sorry for folks like you, who donated in the good-faith belief that Peters had sorted everything out on the back end and these problems wouldn’t come up. You’re probably not going to see the movie you looked forward to (the petitions aren’t something I see as having a chance of succeeding–they just don’t represent enough people to seriously threaten ‘Beyond’ or the upcoming series, and Paramount probably feels like they have to take a stand here) and you’re probably not going to see the money you donated again, either. That’s really terrible, and I wish there was something I could do besides pointing out who’s responsible.

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I think the absolute best-case scenario for fans who want to see this movie made is Peters giving the screenplay and all footage shot so far to Paramount in return for being able to keep the shirt on his back, and someone at Paramount greenlights it as an extra on some Blu-Ray release.

And I put the chances of that somewhere south of 0.1%.

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I’ve backed a score or so of Kickstarters for various roleplaying game products, and I’ve always had the view that I’m taking a risk that I won’t see anything in return. So, while I’m upset, I’m not overly angry.

However, with all these Kickstarters I’ve tried to limit my risk by supporting people with a good track record. In the case of Axanar, the only track record was Prelude, and so I didn’t back it when it was on Kickstarter. That brought in over $600,000. Frankly, if Paramount/CBS had a problem, they should have come out and said so then and done so publically. That would have saved a lot of people a bit money in the Indiegogo campaign, and perhaps money from the original Kickstarter could have been refunded before spending on the production started.

I’m not really disagreeing with what you’re saying, just pointing out that Paramount/CBS could have quite reasonably said something openly a hell of a lot sooner.

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Again, this is from August of 2015: “CBS has not authorized, sanctioned or licensed this project in any way, and this has been communicated to those involved. We continue to object to professional commercial ventures trading off our property rights and are considering further options to protect these rights.”

Now, the article was published on August 25th, and I’m not sure exactly when in August the Indiegogo campaign started and stopped, but it certainly looks like Paramount started to get upset when they raised $638,000 and then went back to the table for a second helping of fan money. Either way, that quote makes any claims that Paramount wasn’t being open pretty hard to swallow. That is corporate-ese for “We have our lawyers on speed dial unless this sumbitch learns how to grovel fast.” :)

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I made my contribution to the Indiegogo campaign on August 9th 2015. The campaign had finished by the 17th, although I’m not sure when it started.

The previous Kickstarter took place a year earlier in July/August 2014. It was stated during this campaign that there would be a series of campaigns to fund it. Paramount/CBS had year to stop Axanar before the Indiegogo campaign began.

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I’m waiting for Mr. Peters to show up on this blog with another one of his rude, aggressive, patronising and divisive attacks…

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He’s already called me both an asshole and a troll on Facebook. I feel like there should be an achievement for that. :)

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Dan Coyle said on May 22nd, 2016 at 3:46 pm

So apparently Justin Lin found out about all of this and was so incensed that these Trek fans were being told they can’t make their movie, Abrams announced this weekend that Paramount will settle with Peters and- I think- Axanar might go forward.

While I know someone associated this project and I know it dearly means a lot to him- this film violated the rules. And now Paramount is looking into formal fan film rules, which sounds to me like a recipe for disaster. I feel among the fan film community, the “success” of Peters’ Axanar will be looked back on years later as the beginning of the end of fun.

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It’s possible, although it could also be that having a high-profile individual inside Paramount who champions fan films might be the beginning of a very good era of fan films. I feel like the reprieve for Axanar was totally unearned, but I’m willing to be cautiously optimistic for the sake of the people who want to see this movie. It still kind of sends my danger sense tingling, basically, but I’m not actively rooting for it to fail. :)

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Dan Coyle said on May 22nd, 2016 at 3:52 pm

And it’s probably a real chap in the ass that Abrams and Linn have saved them, since Axanar is borne of a lot of anger and annoyance with Bad Robot Trek. Personally, I think that annoyance is more than justified since Trek 09 and Into Darkness are atrociously written films. But the best way to deal with it is vote with your wallet and not discuss it publicly at all.

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Dan Coyle said on June 20th, 2016 at 1:58 pm

Well, despite the seeming blessing of Abrams and Lin, Paramount is going ahead with the lawsuit.

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It now appears that Abrams ad-libbed the whole speech about making Paramount stop suing. Ooooops. :)

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