Paramount and Axanar Productions, parties in the closely watched Star Trek fan fiction case, both filed motions for summary judgment in November.

Paramount sued Axanar almost a year ago in the Central District Court for California over a million-dollar crowdfunded project that includes a short film and an upcoming feature film meant to be prequels to the first Star Trek TV episode. Historically, Paramount has been supportive of and even encouraged fan-made work. However, it seems this time that Axanar—to paraphrase the title sequence of the TV series—has boldly gone where no man has gone before in this attempt to produce a studio-quality motion picture. Earlier this year, the district court judge rejected Axanar’s motion to dismiss. The trial is scheduled for early 2017.

The defendant based its motion for summary judgment, filed on November 16th, on the grounds that: 1) Paramount’s claims are premature since Axanar hasn’t made the second movie; 2) neither of Axanar’s works are substantially similar to the Star Trek films; and/or 3) it’s fair use. Axanar stated that the case is not justiciable because the plaintiff is not threatened by “real and immediate” injury. The defendant argued that no final decisions have been made about the script, including the substance of the film, and therefore the claims are not ripe. It next said that the parties’ works can’t be substantially similar because once the non-copyrightable elements are filtered out, the Axanar works and the scripts are completely different from the elements Paramount has the rights to. Finally, Axanar uses the four statutory factors of fair use to argue that its works are protected:

  • the purpose and character of the use: Axanar said it planned to release the full-length movie for free, and its works were transformative, meaning they added new meaning to Star Trek.
  • the nature of the copyrighted work: Axanar said only a few elements of Star Trek are creative enough to be protected, and its own films used/would only use “ancillary elements that fall only marginally within copyright protection.”
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole: Axanar said it only borrowed “minimally,” and that it had not used any “clips, dialogue, plotlines or primary characters.” It also pointed out that the scripts were not completed.
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work: Axanar said its films would not have any market impact on the Star Trek franchise since it was not charging any money.

Paramount obviously disagreed and filed its own motion for summary judgment the next day. The plaintiff reiterated its belief that Axanar was committing copyright infringement. The company also argued that the fair use argument must fail because: 1) Axanar’s films were derivative works and not transformative since they used characters and plots from the original; 2) Star Trek is highly creative and deserved the strongest copyright protection; 3) Axanar took characters and exact plotlines from the TV series and a roleplaying game; and 4) the Axanar films harmed Paramount’s ability to make derivative works.

The case is Paramount Pictures Corporation et al v. Axanar Productions, Inc. et al, Central District of California, 2:15-cv-09938.

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