Monday, June 27, 2016

The Star Trek Fan Film 10 Commandments

I'm going to take another break this week from my Comics Startup 101 series to tackle the new Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines released by CBS and Paramount. The Comics Startup 101 series will return next week addressing protecting your intellectual property.

The Impact of the Star Trek Fan Film 10 Commandments

I recently blogged about the legality of fan art, and you can find that post here. One of the main takeaways from my last post on fan art is that I believe it to be in violation of an IP owner’s rights. However, unless the fan art is being sold, most IP owners would not feel the need to sue or otherwise take actions against a fan artist. A few days after my last post on the fan art question, CBS and Paramount, the studios controlling the rights to Star Trek, announced ten “Guidelines for Avoiding Objections” fan film creators can follow in order to avoid the legal wrath of the studios. These Fan Film 10 Commandments, as I like to call them, are a great tool for determining how far is too far when using IP you don’t own for fan art, fiction, films, etc.
The guidelines were released as a reaction to a lawsuit filed by the studios against producers attempting to create a high-quality, feature-length Star Trek film set before the original Star Trek series titled Axanar. You can find more background information on the lawsuit here, but one of the key facts to keep in mind is that this unlicensed fan film had raised more than $1 Million through crowdfunding. Even though CBS and Paramount have allowed fan films and fan series to be produced in the past without legal challenge, they apparently felt the planned Axanar film went too far. After a bit of a backlash from the Star Trek fan community, including a harsh statement from the director of Paramount’s upcoming Star Trek Beyond film, the studios released a set of guidelines for fans to follow in order to prevent the studios from objecting or taking legal action against the fan-created films.
Here are the “Guidelines for Avoiding Objections”:
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.
As you can tell from the guidelines, Commandment 6, with its six subsections, seems to be pretty important. Basically, the primary thing that will attract the attention and ire of an IP rights holder is trying to profit from their IP. If they are not followed, the other two Commandments that are likely to trigger a response from rights holders are 7 and 9. If a rights holder believes the fan art is harmful to the reputation of its IP, then it will probably act. A rights holder will also act if it believes someone is trying to obtain rights to its works.
           Commandments 1 through 5 seem to apply only to Star Trek related fan films, but they may prove instructive. If your work is substantial enough to pose a financial threat to the rights holder’s authorized works, then it will probably cause them to act. Additionally, if your work incorporates elements that could create confusion as to whether or not it is authorized (e.g., clips from the show, actors associated with the show, or misrepresents who is creating it), then it may force them to act.
What does the CBS/Paramount Fan Film 10 Commandments mean for fan film, fan fiction, and fan art going forward? While I am certain some fans will find these guidelines to be drastic and overbearing, I actually think they help shed light on how IP rights holders view unauthorized use of their intellectual property and are very instructive in gauging the risk of creating fan art, fan fiction, and fan films. While not every rights holder will be as permissive as CBS and Paramount, these Commandments offer clear guidance as to what will be allowed, and I’m guessing other companies use similar criteria in their decision making.

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