CBS, Paramount Tell 'Star Trek' Fans How They Can Make Fan Films Without Getting Sued

In the midst of a lawsuit targeting a crowdfunded film, the two studios give 10 conditions.
Courtesy of CBS

On StarTrek.com, a website run by CBS Entertainment, come new guidelines for Star Trek fan films. CBS and Paramount Pictures say they won't object nor take legal action against amateur productions on 10 conditions. 

The guidelines being issued arrive in the wake of a copyright lawsuit filed by the two companies over a crowdfunded film project titled Axanar, which aimed to make a studio-quality film set before Captain James. T. Kirk's voyage on the U.S.S. Enterprise. That lawsuit raised eyebrows because Star Trek rightsholders have tolerated fan films for decades without going to court. There also was ample discussion over whether elements like the Klingon language were indeed copyrighted. In May, a judge rejected a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and despite word from Star Trek Beyond executive producer J.J. Abrams that an announcement would be coming about an end to the Axanar lawsuit, the litigation continues.

Now, as Paramount gets ready to release Star Trek Beyond and is facing some backlash from the sci-fi franchise's fervent fan base, guidelines have been issued spelling out limitations arguably well beyond copyright and trademark law.  

Upon the release of these new guidelines, the Facebook page for Axanar expressed disappointment: "The CBS 'Guidelines' for Fan Films basically make it impossible for fan films to continue as they have."

Here are the 10 conditions laid out by CBS and Paramount for fan films that won't trigger a lawsuit (though they're caveated by the disclaimer that the two companies reserve the right to revise, revoke and/or withdraw these guidelines at any time and that they shouldn't be interpreted as a license):

1. The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than 2 segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.  

2. The title of the fan production or any parts cannot include the name “Star Trek.” However, the title must contain a subtitle with the phrase: “A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION” in plain typeface. The fan production cannot use the term “official” in either its title or subtitle or in any marketing, promotions or social media for the fan production.

3. The content in the fan production must be original, not reproductions, recreations or clips from any Star Trek production. If non-Star Trek third party content is used, all necessary permissions for any third party content should be obtained in writing.

4. If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek uniforms, accessories, toys and props, these items must be official merchandise and not bootleg items or imitations of such commercially available products.

5. The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.

6. The fan production must be non-commercial:

  • CBS and Paramount Pictures do not object to limited fundraising for the creation of a fan production, whether 1 or 2 segments and consistent with these guidelines, so long as the total amount does not exceed $50,000, including all platform fees, and when the $50,000 goal is reached, all fundraising must cease.
  • The fan production must only be exhibited or distributed on a no-charge basis and/or shared via streaming services without generating revenue.
  • The fan production cannot be distributed in a physical format such as DVD or Blu-ray.
  • The fan production cannot be used to derive advertising revenue including, but not limited to, through for example, the use of pre or post-roll advertising, click-through advertising banners, that is associated with the fan production.
  • No unlicensed Star Trek-related or fan production-related merchandise or services can be offered for sale or given away as premiums, perks or rewards or in connection with the fan production fundraising.
  • The fan production cannot derive revenue by selling or licensing fan-created production sets, props or costumes.

7. The fan production must be family friendly and suitable for public presentation. Videos must not include profanity, nudity, obscenity, pornography, depictions of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or any harmful or illegal activity, or any material that is offensive, fraudulent, defamatory, libelous, disparaging, sexually explicit, threatening, hateful, or any other inappropriate content. The content of the fan production cannot violate any individual’s right of privacy.

8. The fan production must display the following disclaimer in the on-screen credits of the fan productions and on any marketing material including the fan production website or page hosting the fan production:

“Star Trek and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film intended for recreational use. No commercial exhibition or distribution is permitted. No alleged independent rights will be asserted against CBS or Paramount Pictures.”

9. Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law.

10. Fan productions cannot create or imply any association or endorsement by CBS or Paramount Pictures.

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