By Stephanie Liao

Axanar, a $1.2 million production that drew its inspiration from the widely popular science-fiction television series Star Trek, would have been the most expensive and most masterful of fan films, unfortunately, it will instead become two 15-minute shorts after a lawsuit settlement with CBS Studios (CBS) and Paramount Pictures Corporation (Paramount).[1]

Both Paramount and CBS own the copyrights for the six Star Trek television series and thirteen movies.[2] Axanar Productions was able to raise over $1 million through crowdsourcing to produce an amateur fan film called Axanar.[3] Axanar was developed as a prequel to the original Star Trek series, portraying the story of Garth of Izar, a character who appeared in a 1969 The Original Series episode, and his fight against the Klingon Empire during The Four Years War.[4] In 2014, Axanar Productions released a 20-minute short film called “Prelude to Axanar,” which was meant to be a prequel to the longer film.[5] The prelude film caught the attention of Paramount and CBS executives who as a result, filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court in California in 2015.[6]

The lawsuit in late 2015 was followed last year by a new list of fan film guidelines for any non-official Star Trek productions, which the Axanar staff fought back against while they awaited a jury trial scheduled for January 31, 2017. Weeks later, U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner rejected the claim of “fair use” from the producers of Axanar Productions, effectively eliminating their main defense.[7] A jury will decide the second half of copyright analysis, the test of whether an “ordinary, reasonable person would find the total concept and feel [of the works] to be substantially similar.”[8]

On January 20, 2017, Paramount and Axanar Productions announced a settlement that will allow both parties to avoid a jury trial.[9] The settlement has been finalized and the terms are slowly beginning being released.[10] According to a joint statement, Axanar Productions and Alec Peters acknowledged that the film and its prequel “were not approved by Paramount or CBS, and that both works crossed boundaries acceptable to CBS and Paramount relating to copyright law.”[11] Additional terms of the agreement are still being made to the cast, crew, and donors directly. As part of the settlement, Peters has agreed to make changes to Axanar and any future Star Trek fan films produced by him or his company so that they follow the guidelines distributed by Paramount and CBS in June 2016.

Hollywood studios mandates that fans, who are invited to spend as much as they want on their fan films, not to profit off their work. This tension has led to an array of copyright infringement claims, YouTube policing, and lawsuits. Over the years, steps have been taken to serve the need of fan interests. “Organization for Transformative Works” (OTW) was established by a group of fan activists to advocate and preserve fan culture.[12] The OTW aims to protect and defend works of fan fiction. However, even with the existence of OTW, it still remains unclear whether protection organizations such as OTW can successfully manage to create awareness and recognize the legality of fan fiction.

Most fan productions were made with no intent to profit or to infringe on copyright. Rather, they were made with devotion and love for what their passion is and has been. Star Trek has inspired so many people and invigorated the imaginations for generations. Unfortunately, guidelines such as this one in the settlement, will likely kill fan films and alienate at least some die-hard fans who have stuck with the franchise through thick and thin.


[1] Paramount Pictures Corp. v. Axanar Prod., Inc., No. 2:15-CV-09938-RGK-E, 2017 WL 83506 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 3, 2017)

[2] Id. at 1.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Aaron Smith, Star Trek fan film sued for copyright infringement, CNN Media (Dec. 31, 2015),

[7] Id. at 7.

[8] Id. at 6 (citing Three Boys Music Corp. v. Bolton, 212 F.3d 477, 485 (9th Cir. 2000).

[9] Alec Peters, Law Suit Settlement Announced!, Axanar News (Jan. 20, 2017),

[10] Id.

[11] Daniel Kreps, Star Trek Producers Settle Lawsuit Against Crowfunded Film, Rolling Stone (Jan. 20, 2017),

[12] What We Believe, Organization for Transformative Works,

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