(Header Photo Credit: US Army Europe)
[AUTHOR UPDATE: Engage: The Official Star Trek Podcast interviewed John Van Citters of CBS on the new fan film guidelines which cleared up some of the issues raised below. I’ll be writing a follow-up article on what the new info means for fan creators. For now, I’ve closed comments on this thread – thank you all for participating.]
CBS and Paramount handed down new Star Trek Fan Film guidelines and most fans are livid:
At the time of writing, the official post on Star Trek’s Facebook page had 1,300+ comments. 1,300+ “angry” and “sad” reactions. Tweets from Trekkie lawyers like Ryan Kairalla and an entire hashtag around parody rules:
— Ryan Kairalla (@ryankair) June 23, 2016
On the rules, Paramount and CBS indicate: “CBS and Paramount Pictures are big believers in reasonable fan fiction and fan creativity, and, in particular, want amateur fan filmmakers to showcase their passion for Star Trek.” So, what’s all the fuss? Let’s deconstruct the guidelines (cited from StarTrek.com on 6/24/16 at 12PM Mountain):
CBS and Paramount’s Guidelines for Avoiding Objections:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law.
- Fan productions cannot create or imply any association or endorsement by CBS or Paramount Pictures.
10 guidelines which, taken together, dismantle the Star Trek creator fandom.
Not all the rules are explicitly unfair, though – so let’s start with some premises:
- Let’s agree that profiting off of someone else’s brand or copyright is probably not in the realm of “Fair Use”, so guidelines 6, 8, 9, 10 are more or less fair to a true indie fan creator.
- Some might take exception to #6 based on production costs to build sets and the like, but it’s not like you couldn’t crowdfund prop replicas or sets – like the “restore the bridge” project – separate from the production fundraising in and of itself.
- Let’s also agree that – as fan productions, the product should always be free to the audience (except for previously mentioned donations for production up to the level of breaking even) and not have advertising revenue associated which would negatively impact the property owner’s income.
- The one caveat to #6 is that if you backup your production on a DVD or USB drive and do a screening with that media, you’re in violation.
So what does that leave us? Let’s explore the remaining rules: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7
Consequence: No world-building. No characters surviving or explored beyond the scope of 30 minutes in total. No complex storylines. No ongoing efforts. This one rule, in and of itself, can put a stop to: Axanar, Star Trek: Continues, Star Trek: Phase II (New Voyages), Star Trek: Outpost, Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, Star Trek: Renegades, Starship: Exeter, Star Trek: Hidden Frontier, Star Trek: Section 31, Star Trek: Intrepid, and pretty much every other fan production that is longer than 30 minutes or one episode.
Many productions and audio dramas have already indicated they’re halting work via their Facebook pages.
It’s not entirely clear if these rules only apply to film productions or if audio and written form (ie: if it takes you longer than 30 minutes to read or has more than 2 sections/chapters it violates this rule), but they’re halting all the same. Episodic, serial Trek is what we’ve seen, time and time again and what most productions have modeled themselves after – because fans expect it.
Consequence: Not a huge deal, just every fan production with “Star Trek” in the title will be slightly harder to find in Google and will need to change domains.
Consequence: If interpreted to include audio clips and effects, that means you can’t use any existing sounds, effects (transporter/warp), or music. The way this guideline is written, it could also mean you can’t use fonts, designs, or derivations of existing work – such as LCARS, the ship designs, Klingon symbols, you name it. So… is it still Trek if it doesn’t have the trappings of Trek?
Theoretically, you could also stretch this guideline to YouTube and Twitch streams of role-playing Star Trek Online players – since they’re essentially “producing” “machima” using “official clips” from a Star Trek production.
Consequence: Whew. No 3D printed phasers or tricorders (because Playmates made a Tricorder back in the day – good luck finding one on Ebay). No 3D-printed combadges or rank pips, because Anovos made replica licensed props of those ($$$). No TOS, TNG, Voyager/Early DS9, or Insurrection uniforms because those exist via Anovos (sometimes they’re even in stock). Again, is it still Trek if it doesn’t have the trappings of Trek? This feels like a cash grab more than an honest intent to be “true to the trappings of Trek” (especially in tangent with rule #3 – wherein you can’t use any official clips or recreations of official clips).
Consequence: If my day job is to produce audio, and I produce audio on a fan film for free, the fan film is now in violation. If I build website professionally, and I donate my services to the fan film, that fan film is in violation. If a fan film has a professional Trek actor participate, that fan film is now screwed. If you’ve ever appeared in the Trekkies documentaries, you cannot participate in a Star Trek fan film. Depending on the interpretation of the word “employ” (as in: employed as an eyewitness commentator? employed as an unpaid extra? Employed as an unpaid intern?) anyone who was ever on their local CBS affiliate could also be risking a lawsuit from CBS and Paramount if they participate in a Star Trek fan film. This really seems like an overreach, and ultimately, I believe is in violation of most state laws on noncompetition agreements as it has a chilling effect on hiring.
Consequence: You’d better not have any interesting characters who are dealing with any personal vices, you cannot have a duplicitous Ferengi breaking the law, you cannot use Orions (especially with regards to slave trafficking and Orion women probably violate the obscenity bit because obscenity is SUBJECTIVE), you cannot show the NX-01 Decon Chamber (bow chica bow wow), you cannot have a Klingon/Federation bar fight scene, you cannot have a fight scene at all (because last time I checked violence was illegal and harmful), you cannot use the Betazed or Borg assimilation (because you’re violating an individual’s right of privacy – in this case, a character, but it’s not written to preclude that). In short: do not do anything we find disagreeable. Having a plot is highly discouraged.
Having a plot is highly discouraged.
What are we left with?
Not anything that we currently recognize as a Trek fan work. Certainly nothing long enough to deal with current social issues, or that can even deal with social issues at all.
I’ve always been a Trekkie. I can remember my first episode, watched with my family on the couch. I remember being inspired by a more hopeful future – technology side by side with social progress enabling massive shifts in human culture. I wanted to live up to those ideals. I dabbled in fan fiction, created my first fan website, created my own audio drama, and now participate actively in one that just posted its 72nd episode – a Trek audio drama that won a Parsec Award (this is like an audio drama Emmy). That production, completely staffed and produced by amateurs, likely can’t continue under these rules handed down by CBS and Paramount. And that’s wrong.
CBS and Paramount Pictures are now icing the most enthusiastic Star Trek fans in the name of corporate greed and it’s wrong – wrong enough that I’m rethinking my status as a Trekkie.
Since 2005 when Enterprise went off the air, fan films and conventions kept the torch going. Let’s be clear: w/out Star Trek: Continues and other fan films like it, Star Trek’s fanbase was in a major drought. CBS and Paramount no doubt benefitted from fan work – who the hell do you think kept buying, watching, reviewing, and asking for more and more advanced props and reference material? Who do you think showed up in full-on cosplay at the premiers?
Fan films, experiments, adaptations, and fiction should be given special immunity from copyright as long as they’re not products the audience pays for (beyond donations for production costs). It’s pretty clear when that line is deviated from.
There are at least 4 different legal arrangements for fan work I’m aware of that CBS and Paramount could have employed without risking their business model:
- Creative Commons (least ambiguous, most enforceable, has community support, has to be constantly monitored but a large media company has the resources)
- Open-Source (or Creative Commons) Creator’s Toolkit (Nine Inch Nail’s The Hand That Feeds album)
- Selective Licensing (Star Wars Extended Universe)
- Open-Forum Guidelines w/ Reporting and Advice (Kindle Worlds)
Speaking as a creator whose creations have been infringed upon – in my case my work was outright stolen and republished as someone else’s, not remixed by a fan – I say let fan creations ride.
Fan creations almost always help the original artist. Thanks to the DMCA, piracy and off-brand usage are almost always easily thwarted without litigation. If you want to encourage remixes and adaptation, Creative Commons has use-specific license denial when you don’t agree (morally or otherwise) with the remix’s intended purpose and “not-for-commercial sale” option built into the CC-AT-NC licenses, too. Sounds like a perfect platform to encourage fan creations, right? You never relinquish your copyright and can object to a particular use at any time.
A stone-cold “you cannot create anything that would remotely compete with Trek and, also, please only watch/buy/wear/share Official Trek” stance is wrong-headed. Worse: to consider a largely fan-created language (Klingon) enforceable property is just… greedy.
There’s no confusion on the part of fans: we know what “real” Trek is, what it looks like. We’re not making the choice of where to put our money. We are going to spend (and HAVE spent) money on *all* of it – fan or canon, paid streaming or Netflix or YouTube. It’s not an either/or proposition. It’s always an *and*. That loyalty is supposed to work both ways, though – and when you get greedy in the sandbox, nobody wants to play with you anymore.
These guidelines essentially spell the end of Star Trek fan creations. It’s as simple as that.
Bad rules are bad for business. You don’t have to be a Ferengi to see how icing fans between productions chills demand for all Trek. These guidelines represent a completely antithetical deviation from a franchise that once espoused that money wasn’t the end goal in the future. It would be nearly impossible for a fan film following guidelines 2, 6, 8, 9, 10 to have a significant financial impact on either CBS or Paramount so it’s hard to see why the remaining items are necessary outside of a lawsuit.
It would be nearly impossible for a fan film following guidelines 2, 6, 8, 9, 10 to have a significant financial impact on either CBS or Paramount so it’s hard to see why the remaining items are necessary to enforce outside of a lawsuit.
This Trekkie can no longer sustain being a fan. If you feel the same, let CBS and Paramount know.
What a terrible and short-sighted end to such a beautiful vision of the future.