Will Axanar survive the next round in its legal rumble with Paramount Studios?
Axanar, big screen fanfic crowdsourced by an indie studio, is about to get the ban hammer (“big league”) as Paramount Studios takes Axanar Productions to court.
I still have no idea how these guys expect to win. Star Trek is a well-heeled and wholly owned franchise. Fanfics, especially on the scale and quality of production as Axanar, are derivative works, and the owner of the IP gets to decide who’s allowed to create derivative works, no matter how large or intricate the fanverse. It didn’t work for Harry Potter fans who wanted to create a lexicon of J.K. Rowling’s books, and it’s sure as heck’s not going to work with an IP like Trek that has a series and endless movies actively in production.
I often hear the refrain, “but we’re not profiting off the work!” Guys: whether you profit off a fanfic or not doesn’t matter. The copyright holder is the only one entitled to play around with his/her characters in spin offs and sequels, and the only way around that right is to hope a judge will side in your favor and rule that your work qualifies as substantially transformative (such as in a parody), after an expensive lawsuit.
Is it terrible thing that you can’t go about expanding the creative boundaries of someone else’s fiction? At first blush, it might feel that way: multi-generational, moneyed corporate interests (see: Disney) can use copyright law to keep a stranglehold on IP for a very long time, and in those cases, the purpose of the law itself is thwarted, as new innovators are perpetually prevented from creating new work. But when it comes to something like Axanar, the team behind the fan movie not only raised public funds to build a studio, but sold unlicensed merchandise and announced wide-ranging ambitions for future productions. That’s not the same thing as writing some short stories on fanfiction.net or making a wacky remix video on YouTube. The most important difference (at least IMHO) is in the degree to which you challenge the copyright holder’s legal right to derive new work from the thing they created.