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Fate of Star Trek fan film will be decided by a jury, court rules

Paramount and CBS will get to present their case

Axanar Axanar Productions

Paramount and CBS have been granted permission to present their case before a jury in an attempt to stop fan film Axanar from being made., after more than a year duking it out in court.

On Dec. 30, 2015, Paramount and CBS filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against writer Alec Peters and the producers of Star Trek fan film, Axanar. According to the two companies, because Peters and the rest of his team at Axanar Productions used Kickstarter and Indiegogo to raise more than $1 million to create a film based on their characters and other aspects of their series, it was technically copyright infringement.

There has been some back-and-forth on the progression of the case, with Star Trek Into Darkness director J.J. Abrams claiming last May that Paramount and CBS were going to drop the case. The companies had already let Peters’ 21-minute Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar slide because they deemed it a fan video, but the prospect of Peters and his team profiting off a full-length feature set on an official Star Trek planet was too much.

On Wednesday, a Los Angeles judge handed down his opinion and declared that while he believed Peters’ film was substantially similar to Star Trek, he would leave it up to a jury to see if the “total concept and feel of [Axanar and Star Trek works were] substantially similar.”

From the use of Klingon and pointy Vulcan ears to yellow Captain shirts, Paramount and CBS have argued that elements of the show are being used in Axanar. Peters’ stance has always been that the film is a fan tribute, but CBS and Paramount have reiterated that if the film makes a profit for those involved with the project off of designs created by those who worked on the original series and films, it’s copyright infringement.

While Peters argued that because Axanar isn’t a finished film and therefore can’t be correctly compared to Star Trek films or series in a copyright case, the judge disagreed. He said while Axanar isn’t finished, there is enough substantial evidence that it has taken cues from the original films and series for CBS and Paramount to continue their case.

On Fan Film Factor, Peters’ surrogate blog, the producer and director wrote a quick response to the judge’s decision, adding that depending on the verdict, Axanar Productions may decide to appeal.

This morning, Judge Klausner made a ruling that the case will go to jury trial to determine if Axanar is ‘substantially similar’ to the CBS copyrighted works,” Peters wrote. “If it is, then the jury will have to find if the infringement is ‘willful’ or ‘non-willful’, and Judge Klausner already stated that ‘Peters’ actions demonstrate a respect for Plaintiffs’ intellectual property that makes a finding of willfulness on summary judgement inappropriate.’ If the jury does not find ‘substantial similarity’ then the case will be dismissed. Depending on the outcome of the trial, Axanar may choose to appeal the verdict.

It wasn’t a total win for the big studios, though. CBS and Paramount were denied their request for declaratory and injunctive relief, which would essentially stop production on Axanar immediately. Instead, the judge ordered the two parties to appear before a jury.

The case will go to trial on Jan. 31.

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