For a little while there, it seemed like Axanar, the crowdfunded Star Trek fan film, was out of danger. But it turns out, the film no longer has a Fair Use leg to stand on. Unless we get some Captain Picard-level speech about why Axanar shouldn’t be seen as CBS’s property, the movie is screwed.
CBS and Paramount filed a lawsuit against Axanar Productions in late 2015, saying that the film was infringing on their copyright. The movie, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars during its Kickstarter campaign, has seen its shares of ups and downs throughout the ordeal. In mid-2016, JJ Abrams suggested that he and Justin Lin had convinced CBS and Paramount to settle the lawsuit, which ended up being something he sort of made up on the fly.
So far, Axanar Productions’ only real defense has been claiming that their movie, set as a prequel to the original series, is protected under Fair Use. Sadly, a judge threw out that defense this week. Even though the movie is technically a non-profit venture, the judge ruled that the movie relies too much on copyright-protected material. In order to survive, Axanar Productions will have to prove to a jury that Axanar does not bear any significant resemblance to any Star Trek properties—which, obviously, it does. Unless the jury doesn’t know or care what Star Trek is, the likelihood of Axanar surviving the lawsuit intact is very slim.
The lawsuit could spell further Tribble Trouble for other Star Trek fan works. Last year, Paramount created a 10-point list of rules for amateur filmmakers, detailing what they can and can’t do when paying tribute to the series. It’s had a negative effect on the community, leading some productions to shut down or change plans in order to avoid a lawsuit like the one Axanar has faced.