CBS, Paramount Settle Suit Over Star Trek Fan’s YouTube Hit

  • Copyright infringement trial had been scheduled for Jan.31
  • Fan’s movie mimics sci-fi franchise on streaming service

CBS Corp. and Paramount Pictures Corp. settled their copyright-infringement lawsuit against a die-hard Star Trek fan who had channeled his obsession with an obscure character from the original TV series into a professional 20-minute YouTube hit.

The studios and filmmaker Alec Peters announced the agreement Friday, 11 days before the case was set for trial in Los Angeles. The deal follows a federal judge’s ruling this month that bolstered CBS and Paramount’s claims by rejecting Peters’ argument that his “Prelude to Axanar” was fair use of the Star Trek material. The judge said Peters had mined the studios’ copyrighted works down to “excruciating detail.”

“Axanar and Mr. Peters have agreed to make substantial changes to Axanar to resolve this litigation,” according to a joint statement. Peters has “also assured the copyright holders that any future Star Trek fan films produced by Axanar or Mr. Peters will be in accordance with the “Guidelines for Fan Films” distributed by CBS and Paramount in June 2016.”

The case is a rare instance of movie and TV-rights owners throwing the book at one of their own fans. CBS and Paramount alleged Peters has ripped off the plot, characters, costumes and spaceship design from their 50-year-old science fiction franchise. Peters claimed his movie, crowd-funded with $100,000 raised on Kickstarter, was an original work of satire and parody. He has been raising money for a feature-length film budgeted at $1.3 million.

U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner said in a Jan. 3 ruling it was difficult to see how the film qualifies for protection as a “criticism” of the Star Trek works. 

Vulcan, Starfleet

“This is not surprising since defendants set out to create films that stay faithful to the Star Trek canon and appeal to Star Trek fans,” Klausner said in the decision.

Peters and his Axanar Productions Inc. got caught in the studios’ crosshairs after the YouTube success of his 2014 documentary-style short that recounts a confrontation between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The short film has been viewed about 2.8 million times on YouTube.

“Prelude to Axanar” features interviews with Starfleet commanders played by professional actors, including the same actor who played Vulcan Ambassador Soval in the “Star Trek: Enterprise” series reprising his role. The planned full-length movie will tell the story of Garth of Izar, a Starfleet captain who appeared in the original TV series as an inmate at an insane asylum and a hero of Captain Kirk’s.

As part of the settlement, Peters can make a longer movie and post it as two 15-minute segments on YouTube, without ads, Axanar Productions said in a separate statement. The original film can also remain on YouTube commercial-free.

“Over a year ago, we have expressed our desire to address the concerns of the studios, and our willingness to make necessary changes, as long as we could reasonably meet our commitments to Axanar’s over 14,000 donors, fans and supporters’,” Peters said in the statement. “We are now able to do exactly that.”

The case is Paramount Pictures Corp. v. Axanar Productions Inc., 15-cv-09938, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

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