Whos Star Trek is it Anyways? Axanar and the ‘Starship Bridge Too Far’

The following is an opinion piece, and it’s not about Star Trek Online.

With multiple fan productions trying to provide us with new classic trek in a manner tolerated by CBS,  multiple licensed video games, a new television series looking better by the day for 2017, and another alternate-universe movie due on the big screen – Star Trek is still a force in 2016.

Has any of these official productions/games come close to capturing the real essence of Star Trek?  I don’t really think so.  There are moments in each that resonate, but for the life of me I can’t remember anything officially produced in the last decade that I would call true ‘Star Trek’.

I’m a late-comer to the world of fan productions.  There was a time for me when if Shatner wasn’t Kirk, it would be crap. Like his hairpiece, my impressions of fan productions and Shatner-less Trek have changed.  Star Trek Continues and Star Trek: Phase II represent my favorites, with the most recent episodes standing out as being canon-quality on par with anything produced in the 1960’s. To a certain extent even JJ’s Star Trek (2009) is a massive fan-film with dozens of canon nods and shout-outs between actively ignoring the science and stories that made Star Trek so cool.

Star Trek and science go hand in hand even through it’s science fiction.

It’s one of the reasons for me why Star Trek: Axanar was potentially so cool. Even though it was a fan production, it hit all the right notes for me personally. The story behind the creation of the Ares Class, the arms race with the Klingons and the balls-to-the-wall blood-bath solution at Axanar was pitch perfect to me. The effects were spot-on. The actors were amazing!

Tony Todd brings credit to anything he works on.  I could not wait to see him in the final product!

When I saw they offered patches as a goal reward , out came my credit card to support the movie.  5 months and still waiting to receive anything promised though…

axanar

Then Axanar started making models for sale. They expanded the online (albeit private) store.  Novels were announced. And of course there was Axanar Coffee.

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The donation I made for the production of a fan-film went to building Ares Studios – a legitimate profit generating business, and not the movie. And it paid for a studio lease, a sound stage, sushi and now likely the legal expenses at some point in the near future.

Somewhere along the line this fan production became a wage-paying profitable business. Great news for CBS – proving Star Trek was still very viable – but bad news for every other fan production. Axanar was effectively using another companies IP for profit leaving CBS in a very difficult place. CBS had no choice but to act to preserve it’s intellectual property.  As for fans feeling a little like they got a bait-and-switch, there’s musings of a class-action against Axanar. I plan to ask for a refund tomorrow – I wonder what will happen?

It’s an odd place for a fan to be, just shy of the 50th anniversary and wondering – who’s Star Trek is it anyways?

No Justin. Star Trek doesn’t belong to the fans. It belongs to the people who just paid your 7 figure salary to direct Star Trek Beyond.  (Guessing on his salary).

Which Trek is your Trek?

Star Trek is many things to many people, but one thing is for certain – it cannot be classified by any one description including mine.

Those unfamiliar with science fiction will sometimes classify Trek fans in the same way they talk about Star Wars. Nothing could be farther from the truth. At it’s worst Trek is cheesy Science Fiction, while at it’s best its about the exploration of the human condition. It tries with surprising success to base itself in a foundation of real science even when it doesn’t quite understand what that science is. Communicators and tricorders are inspiring real products. 3D printers are improving every year. Warp drive is no longer in the realm of fiction and the principles behind it are actually being investigated.

Star Trek has inspired generations to explore and improve the human condition through science. How many scientists are out there today because they were inspired by Star Trek?

For many trekkers it’s about exploring the human condition through allegorical tales of the 1960’s with the odd monster of the week thrown in for good measure. For an even larger group – the 1980’s TNG fans – it challenges us to see what could be, and in Q’s own words.”to explore the possibilities of existence”.

Star Trek has always been as much about the time it was made as it was about the stories themselves. And while I might have pointed out just a few elements of what makes Star Trek special for you, I know I’m missing much more because…

Star Trek is different for everyone.

In the 1970’s I wasn’t just a child of Star Trek, but of NATO as well. I lived on an Armed Forces base in West Germany, and got my news from the Stars & Stripes. There was an arms race underway, and the world was on the brink of a nuclear war. It’s that world perspective that really put me over the top for Axanar.

Star Trek’s Utopian potential is why I gravitated to a science fiction television program that showed us that even with our differences, we could live in peace in a future where anything was possible. I read and reread every Star Trek novel and book available. I consider it a badge of honor that I watched every episode of TOS in German, even though I didn’t completely understand the language.

I didn’t need to.

For a time Next Gen was the unwelcome usurper, that I watched intently week after week for a fix of ‘anything trek’. Bitching became praise as I grew to accept The Next Generation as not only equal to classic Trek, but as a series that expanded the Star Trek universe. I still get misty eyed when I think of The Inner Light, or feel a sense of completeness with All Good Things… .

One thing is true – you don’t need to remaster great storytelling.

 

My Trek came of age with Deep Space Nine.

While we could argue that DS9 was the least trek-like of the series that came before and after, the complexity of the characters and stories stand out to this day. The various mega-space-battles of DS9 rival anything on the big screen, but what stands out for me is the character driven moments – In the Pale Moonlight and The Visitor still resonate years after watching them.

Imagine that – Star Trek can be as good with phaser fire as without. DS9 might not have had as satisfying a closure as TNG, but it was lightyears ahead of the series to follow.

Voyager was in my opinion, a dark time for Trek. It was the first series I ever gave up on, about the time that the episode Threshold was released. I’m not really sure why Enterprise never ‘gelled’ with me. Faith of the Heart, while lyrically a perfect match, was the first of many bad decisions which doomed that series. Canon isn’t something you can mess with without raising our ire. Voyager and to a greater extend Enterprise both suffered from fan fatigue and a rapidly changing television landscape – something neither could adapt to. There were standout moments in both series, but it was too little and too late. Having just re-watched Enterprise I am very willing to accept that Enterprise as a series never existed except as a holodeck program in Rikers personal library.

Update: tried to re-watch the first season of Voyager, and gave up at episode four. Even at it’s worst Enterprise was so much better.  I’d better put on my fire-proof twitter pants…

My Trek may not be your Trek. And that’s ok. Trek is what you make of it.

While we might agree to disagree on what Trek really is, one thing is for certain – we enjoy it and want more.

But wanting more Star Trek doesn’t give just anyone the right to make more, and CBS has the right to say no.

Fan films are made on ridiculously small budgets, often at great personal expense for the people involved. If the material is done with respect, CBS unofficially tolerates it.  It’s their right as the owner.

And then there’s this guy:

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Am I being an armchair lawyer? Hell yes 😉  but Alec Peters might have a point.

I’m not a lawyer, but even with first hand experience in dealing with the approval processes for licensing with Lucasfilm, Disney and 20th Century Fox – I may not know what I’m talking about. The thought of Disney’s legal team still gives me nightmares, and for good reason: All of them like to protect their investments, and CBS is no different.

Full disclosure:  I’ve had 2 email conversations with Alec Peters, neither of which had to do with this post.  The first was answering his call for bloggers – I offered, but nothing came of it.  The second email was about the status of the production and fan rewards given the lawsuit.  Alec’s answers came quickly (Kudos to him, I didn’t expect an answer), but as they contradicted what was attributed to Axanar days later, I decided not to publish them here.

So in a way, I think I can offer my opinion on the subject, especially after being told I wasn’t a true fan of Star Trek if I didn’t support Axanar (even though I’ve been pro-axanar in all my posts).  Here are a few of the common comments I’ve seen floating around on the subject:

CBS is suing the fans.
Nope – this is a non starter.  CBS is not suing everyone. That’s batshit crazy talk.

CBS is greedy.
CBS is a publicly traded company and has a responsibility to protect it’s value for shareholders and licencees. It’s not called greed.  It’s called corporate responsibility.

Axanar is so good that CBS is scared.
That’s a load of crap. Axanar hasn’t really filmed anything of consequence, and has even stated in court documents they don’t have a ‘locked’ script. Finished movies are rarely better than the trailers, so it’s hard to imagine that CBS is scared of Axanar’s perceived quality. The lawsuit is primarily to defend the property of the company and it’s shareholders and licencees.  While ‘Prelude to Axanar’ is among the best looking fan projects, you can’t judge something that hasn’t been made yet.

Why not finish it and put it out professionally in theaters or pay per view?
In a perfect world this could happen, but as both sides start ratcheting up expenses it’s highly unlikely. Whatever funds raised for Axanar are likely never going to be used for the production of the movie.

Is Axanar a con job?
No, and Alec Peters is not a con-man. While Alec Peters may be guilty of pushing the boundaries in how fan films are made, I don’t believe he is intentionally dishonest. Seeing my donation going to start a studio and pay wages certainly raised red flags with me.  I didn’t donate to Ares Studios. Having Tony Todd’s image used to sell products was problematic, especially after there was no announcement that he had parted ways with Axanar. That seems a little shady but in light of the rumor Tony may be up for a part in the new series, it now seems his departure may have more to do with that than the rumors of issues with Axanar. And someone, somewhere is making money off of coffee, T-shirt printing, model making AND music CD’s.  CBS isn’t seeing a dime from that. I seriously doubt Juan Valdez is picking coffee at a loss, shipping it to  a roaster, who then roasts & repackages it at a loss to given away free to fans.

Why has Axanar being singled out when there are many fan productions?
Axanar created this problem when they admitted to paying salaries and expanded the ways to raise funds. Those funds are being used to set up a business in which Mr. Peters and others are earning a living.

And no, Hollywood accounting practices cannot be used to hide income.

Is Axanar actually trying to hurt other fan productions?
No, Axanar and Alec Peters are NOT trying to hurt other fan productions. In fact I honestly believe that one part of this project was to produce something we’d all be proud of, setting a new standard for the entire genre.

My only beef is the scorched earth policy in the way they are responding in social media isn’t helping. Fans being kicked from Facebook.  Threats sent to bloggers.

Unfortunately for fan productions, the most likely outcome of this lawsuit is that fundraising where a third party earns a percentage may no longer be viable. In simple english – indiegogo may no longer be viable to raise money for productions using unlicensed IP. Technically it’s against their terms and conditions.  It’s possible that the lawsuit could be expanded later to include them.

Will Axanar win the lawsuit?
Win may be a poor descriptive choice. In all likelihood the production will be shut down, and the monies raised seized to cover court expenses. If the fan-raised funds are in jeopardy, CBS may relent and offer it returned to the fans especially if they can go after other sources.

CBS will do it’s very best to recover the legal fees and judgement made against Axanar Productions and Alec Peters.

Why is Axanar being sued for copyright infringement? Others are doing it. If they’re making money from Star Trek, why not give the profits to CBS?
Copyright infringement is CBS’s best legal option to go after Axanar’s use of their property. CBS tolerates fan productions. Period. But when someone uses their property in any way, CBS has the legal right to determine how it is used. As for the issue of profit sharing, Axanar could have asked CBS and negotiated a deal to create Star Trek content for the web under existing arrangements. CBS chairman Les Moonves admitted recently that Netflix and Amazon tried to get a new Star Trek series; Axanar would fall under that arrangement.

Unfortunately for Axanar, CBS decided to produce their own series in-house as is their right.

What’s the future for Axanar?
I hope they can come to a settlement where Axanar gets made, and the fans love it®. I also hope that Donald Trump won’t be the Republican nominee. Both hopes are highly unlikely at this time.


If you’d like to get an in-depth legal view on the process and machinations I highly recommend you start following the G&T Shows coverage. It’s by far the most concise and accurate representation of the facts as I know them.  I trust their coverage however there’s been a fair amount of unwarranted vitriol thrown in their direction by Axanar fans. That has left co-hosts feeling fairly mistreated, all the while they maintained balanced coverage of the issue.

Another great source is axamonitor.com. Frequently updated, it’s become my go-to for the latest updates in the legal proceedings.  Last Friday CBS updated it’s complaint with specific references to the IP infringement.  Axanar Productions and Alec Peters have until March 31st to file an answer to that amended complaint (summary of the ammended complaint).

Lastly, I’d like to think that I’m still a supporter of fan-produced films.  While I personally believe that Axanar is effectively ‘A Starship Bridge Too Far’ in terms of fan-films, I still hold out hope that it could get made.  Imagine a settlement where CBS gains full control on Ares Studios to complete the project without Peters, while establishing a framework where fan productions must be approved to proceed.  It could be an amazing win-win for everyone.

That, and T6 Ares-class in Star Trek Online (updated by Thomas Marrone) would be awesome.

My Two Bits

The Lootcritter

13 thoughts on “Whos Star Trek is it Anyways? Axanar and the ‘Starship Bridge Too Far’

  1. So the other day in an interview in the trekgeeks podcast Vic mignogna said that their campaign for their current batch of episodes wasn’t moving as well as they were hoping and attributed it to the current climate all this has raised. It’s sad because overall regardless od who comes out on top in all reality we will still be losers

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    1. Completely agree with that. Part of what frustrates me – and this is my impression – is that some people believe that what Ax and say New Voyages does are the same thing. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Axanar is a professional business who tried to get around licensing through a fan film cover. If I can get my money back, I sure as hell will pass it on to Vic 🙂

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  2. I have had a number of issues with this production (stemming from budget bloat/scope creep), but what speaks to me the most, is that Peters, and company, thought they had the ability, to give a third party permission to make a commercial product (i.e. Coffee) for their unlicensed movie, based on the Intellectual Property owned by someone else.

    It’s unjustifiable in my opinion. It tells me, that these people don’t care for the intellectual property they are working on.

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  3. There are a handful of reasons why Axanar is in the “wrong,” but the most relevant thing is “damage to the IP,” which has been easier and easier for CBS/Paramount to demonstrate as this has escalated.

    Putting everything else aside, everyone who made it a point to give money to Axanar, and then state things like “LOL JJTrek sucks and my money is going to this instead of lens flares” is a huge red flag for whomever CBS/Paramount has looking at their interests.

    In other words, if you consistently show that you’re effectively taking money out of their pocket by hijacking their property, it’s never going to end well for you. And I’m surprised the Axanar people are pretending like they’re surprised/insulted by all of this. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist.

    Anyone who owns anything like this can claim “damage” to their IP, and it’s hard to prove that it ISN’T damage. They could just say that Axanar is garbage, and that it hurts Trek’s image, and win.

    There are so many other viable legal reasons that Axanar SHOULD be shut down, that it’s really not a case of “Big guy vs Little guy,” but more a case of “Some guy using Little Guy as an excuse to make profit illegally and cry foul.”

    Everyone saying “But they don’t shut down x” only argues that not only should Axanar be shut down, but the others should be, too. Because they’re being good sports(for whatever reason) about fan films doesn’t mean someone should try to exploit that as a loophole- which isn’t a valid argument, anyway. It does NOT establish “precedence,” as they are completely different circumstances…and all using that excuse will do is make them say “OK, screw this, we’re done with this nonsense” and stop letting fan films of any kind go on.

    There’s a whole lot more that goes into this, but this is LIKELY what got their ire and attention- the selling of merchandise, and the multitudes of people using this to bash/ignore (damage) their current/future projects.

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  4. It’s a pity that CBS chose to exercise their right to a lawsuit rather than settle this behind the scenes with Axanar’s creators to better define the limits that Axanar could take, and possibly find a win-win solution like licensing Axanar. I don’t blame CBS for their actions, which seem justified, but I’m disappointed that Axanar will likely go down in flames, and taking fans’ money with it.

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    1. This is a business. And while I want to believe there is a way to work it out between the parties, I firmly believe Alec Peters pushed the boundaries so far that CBS had no alternative but to push back to firmly – and forcefully – to protect it’s IP.

      I just finished one of the more recent drafts of the script, and wonder how much farther CBS would go after them considering what’s in it.

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      1. Remember The House of Mouse would have NO PROBLEM stomping on anyone making even a slip of GPL off the IP they currently own if they thought someone was infringing on them (I’m currently working on a project with them involving one IP and it’s taking FOREVER to get things legally approved). It’s no surprise that CBS sees someone as potentially damaging the Trek IP in what may become a critical year for it.

        Ultimately, as others have pointed out above, this will hurt the legit not-for-profit fan efforts, and doesn’t personally endear me to CBS either.
        I’m tired of the way they basically ran their cash cow into the side of a Borg cube at warp 9.5, but still let things like meh films (Paramount is to blame for that too), the sub-optimal parts of STO, and overpriced con crud fly, while thinking of fans as nothing more than walking ATMs to get yet more scrip out of.

        If they actually took good care of and paid attention to the IP and the fans (who you’ll never get 100% of happy, but you can get close) then they could be making some money off of projects like this, or building goodwill towards “canon” efforts. Now it’s just lawsuits flying because of poor decisions and impulse control on both sides, and ultimately the fans get burned again, regardless.

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  5. My experience with Disney’s legal team was during my brief time with Dark Horse Comics. They were extremely diligent , and would not back down from a fight. So much so that they developed a style in dealing with IP transgressors that bordered on something you’d see in a movie (they go after your children – they don’t actually but I’m saying it for effect),

    CBS has been lax – not because they like/dislike the fan productions, but because it wasn’t in their interests to go after them.

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  6. As a fan I am insulted by CBS’s lawsuit. Did the Axanar team push the boundries and maybe go a little into the wrong, maybe. I’m not gonna argue that point as most of you will say I’m wrong. I will however say that this went too far too fast for both sides. The fans knew what they were getting into, that donations could and would be used to rent out areas to shoot the film. Also, not all people work for free in the movie business, even on fan made stuff, someone ends up getting paid somewhere.

    As far as I am concerned the new Trek series is gonna fail, if not because it’s behind a paywall then because of sub-par acting and scripts. And if Axanar gets canned, NO ONE will watch the new series no matter what CBS does. In short, this is a Lose-Lose-Lose situation: Axanar loses, CBS loses, and the Fans lose most of all. Nothing good will come of this lawsuit, mark my words.

    Also Lootcritter, I have posted a link to this post of yours on my DeviantArt page: http://stargazzer811.deviantart.com/journal/An-Third-Party-Opinion-on-Axanar-598905661

    Feel free to look over the comments there if you like.

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    1. Not looking to get into an argument – but people will watch the new Trek regardless of the Axanar issue. I am keenly aware of the negative fan feelings for that other syndicated series and how many hard core fans said it would fail. That series was Star Trek: The Next Generation and it went on to become the most successful series in the franchise to date.

      Like Axanar – there’s nothing been written or filmed to this point so judging the new series using Axanar as an example is ridiculous.

      My issue was that I nicely asked for a refund. Alec responded and basically said until the first (of the three) fundraisers are fulfilled – and after he finished setting up the fulfillment company – then I’ll get what was promised.

      I didn’t donate to set up a fulfillment company, or a t-shirt company or a coffee company. I want to see Axanar as promised. If I can’t see it – and it’s looking horribly doubtful it will ever get made – I’d like to donate that money to a Star Trek production that HAS MADE episodes without raising a million dollars for nothing…..

      I have been very supportive of Axanar until I read the breakdown of where the money went. I am waiting for the court discovery process to detail how the money has been used. The fact that some of that money paid wages is enough cause for Alec to get sued. He doesn’t own Trek – and neither do you or I – It’s CBS’s property and they have the right to say how it’s used.

      ‘We’ do not.

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      1. Kind of like how fans are rightfully unhappy with the Mighty Number Nine and the tricks its makers are engaging in. :/

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  7. I cant help but be reminded of the MLP issues that have cropped up. Fan projects cant borrow copyrighted material to make a money making business. The state of our broken copyright setup means companies have to step in if they ever want to own a copyright.

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  8. Like the death fo the MLP fighting game – you cant use fan projects to set up a business. The broken state of copyright law means just ignoring that once you could lose your copyright forever if you do.

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