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CBS and Paramount have a new set of guidelines for anyone making Star Trek fan films

Posted July 21

Fan films are nothing new, and especially among so-called “Trekkies”/“Trekkers” — the poster-child fan group for the kind of die-hard devotion every franchise wishes it could inspire — fan films are one key way some audience members engage with the various movies and TV series.

But as of June, those with plans for their own Star Trek productions had better make sure they check the official list of Star Trek fan film rules, because otherwise they might find themselves inadvertently running afoul of the CBS and Paramount legal teams.

On June 23, the two companies, which jointly control the creative rights to Gene Roddenberry’s beloved sci-fi franchise, sent out a press release announcing the new set of rules — or “Guidelines for Avoiding Objections,” as they call them — applicable to all fan-produced Star Trek media from here on out, which were created in the hopes of “bringing fan films back to their roots.”

Some of the new guidelines include things such as strict limitations on length: “The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than two segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes."

Know a guy who knows a guy who knows a former Star Trek cast member who might be up for a cameo? Too bad. “Creators, actors and all other participants … cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.”

Have a cool title in mind? Well, it had better not include the name “Star Trek” except as part of the following phrase, which must be appended as a subtitle no matter what: “A ‘Star Trek’ Fan Production” (in plain typeface).

These are just a few of the rules, which affect everything from how much money can be spent to whether physical copies of the final movie such as DVDs can be made (they can’t) to using branded merchandise as incentives for a hypothetical crowdfunding campaign (nope).

The significant crackdown on fans comes shortly after a lawsuit filed last December went after the producers of a fan-funded feature-length movie titled “Star Trek: Axanar.” The film had been funded through the donations of more than 10,000 people via crowdfunding sites Kickstarter and Indiegogo, racking up more than $1.1 million in donations, according to treknews.net.

CBS and Paramount sued producer Alec Peters and his company, Axanar Productions, for copyright infringement, demanding $150,000 for each infringement, according to the-digital-reader.com.

And “Axanar” isn’t the only fan production that will be forced to shut down, with other titles such as “Star Trek: Of Gods and Men,” “Star Trek: New Voyages” and “Star Trek: Renegades” all in violation of one or more clauses in the new guidelines, according to a recent article by Chris Lough and Leah Schnelbach on tor.com.

“In fact … it is difficult to think of a production or creation that doesn’t violate these guidelines,” write Lough and Schnelbach. “As such, CBS and Paramount’s release resembles a blanket cease-and-desist order more than it does a workable list of guidelines.”

Or is this largely just a lot of huff and puff on the parts of CBS and Paramount to scare people away from ever trying to make something like "Axanar" again? Appearing on a recent episode of “Engage: The Official Star Trek Podcast,” John Van Citters, vice president of product development at CBS, said the company has no intention of actively going after either pre-existing fan films that violate the guidelines or new ones that violate them, so long as they don’t do it too egregiously — like earning more than $1 million.

These rules, Van Citters said, “are not intended to end fan films,” according to polygon.com. Also citing various abuses, such as the focus on the merchandising associated with crowdfunding campaigns for large-scale fan films such as “Axanar,” he said, “(Fan film) productions started spiraling larger and larger. There’s something of an arms race about how many Hollywood names could be attached, how many people that have previously worked on Trek, how many famous actors could you involve. And that’s not really in the spirit of fan fiction.”

Jeff Peterson is a native of Utah Valley and studied humanities and history at Brigham Young University. Along with the Deseret News, he also contributes to the film discussion website TheMovieScrutineer.com.

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