Enlarge / The newly imagined USS Ares, as seen in the Prelude to Axanar short film.Prelude to Axanar
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A federal judge in Los Angeles has decided that the copyright lawsuit over the pending Star Trek fan film Prelude to Axanar should move forward.
For now, a civil trial is set to begin on January 31, 2017.
Earlier this week, US District Judge Robert G. Klausner rejected the motion for summary judgment filed by the plaintiffs, Paramount and CBS. He also rejected a motion filed by the defendants, Axanar Productions.
The judge was unpersuaded by Axanar Productions’ arguments that it was entitled to the fair use exception.
The legal battle began in late 2015, when the two entertainment giants sued a group of filmmakers who had released an unlicensed and unauthorized short 20-minute trailer a year earlier.
In that trailer, dubbed Prelude to Axanar, a group of Federation, Vulcan, and Klingon officers speak in documentary-like interviews about the Four Years War between the Federation and the Klingons.
The short film features a number of actors who have performed in previous Star Trek works, including J.G. Hertzler, now in the new role of Admiral Samuel Travis, and Gary Graham, who reprised his role as Vulcan Ambassador Soval.
The Four Years’ War, which was briefly discussed but never actually portrayed in any of the Star Trek series, is set before the beginning of The Original Series.
Axanar Productions raised over $1.1 million on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and it was expected to release a full-length film in 2016 before it got derailed by the lawsuit.
In May 2016, the director of the new set of Star Trek films, J.J.
Abrams, indicated that the lawsuit would “be going away,” but that still hasn’t happened.
A month later, as a result of the ongoing legal battle, Paramount and CBS released a set of guidelines that would allow fan films to proceed without getting sued. (Axanar would violate those rules.)
To boldly go
In his Tuesday order, Judge Klausner made it very clear that he has at least some working knowledge of Star Trek.
As he wrote:
Here, there is no dispute that Plaintiffs have ownership of copyrights to the Star Trek Copyrighted Works, and that Defendants have access to these Works.
Thus, the copyright infringement claim can live long and prosper if the Axanar Works are substantially similar to the Star Trek Copyrighted Works.
The court found that there was an “objective substantial similarity” between the Axanar film and the copyrighted Star Trek works.
The question of “subjective substantial similarity” would now be left to a jury to determine.
As the judge continued:
Sometimes a feeling is all we humans have to go on.
But for substantial similarity, the law demands more. “The extrinsic test considers whether two works share a [substantial] similarity of ideas and expression as measured by external, objective criteria” – in a Vulcan-like manner.
In additional court filings submitted on Wednesday, CBS, Paramount, and Axanar Productions all put forward their list of witnesses.
CBS said it would put John Van Citters, an executive who has worked with Paramount and CBS on Star Trek for nearly 20 years, on the stand.
Van Citters, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, “knows the canon of Star Trek intimately as well as the history and personnel involved in the production of Star Trek in order to be able to efficiently assess whether or not material CBS is presenting to the public is accurate and fits with existing canon.”
Axanar Productions, for its part, will counter with Christian Tregillis, a financial consultant who will “rebut Plaintiffs’ theory of lost profits that they claim resulted from Defendants’ alleged infringement, i.e., that funds donated to making of Defendants’ works have resulted in lost revenue or profits to Plaintiffs,” according to its own filing.
The film company will also offer up Henry Jenkins, a professor of media studies at the University of Southern California, who is an expert on Star Trek’s historical relationship between its creators and its fans.
All sides are set to meet before the judge for a pretrial conference on January 9, 2017 at 10:00am at the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.