And we love our sci-fi and fantasy

And we love our sci-fi and fantasy

This short film series has garnered millions of views and Kirby has even spoken on the TED stage. Back in 2010 I interviewed him for one of my older podcasts, and I later contacted him about his use of Tarantino movie clips, as well as music usage (where he used parts of famous songs to illustrate, coincidentally, how musicians escort in Jurupa Valley sample songs). Kirby told me he did not get permission from the studios or labels to use those clips.

You know what he did do? He followed the guidelines of the CMSI’s The Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use. In fact, he was the first person to ever refer me to the work of Pat and the CMSI.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property (or “IP”) is a physically intangible item of value based on ideas, computer code, trademarks, copyrighted stories and characters, etc. For many companies, their IP is their primary product. So, it stands to reason, they go out of their way to protect that IP.

But filmmakers are nerds. (You’re reading an article by a huge one. A nerd that is). Hence the fan film.

Fan service

YouTube contains tens of thousands of fan films. Media created by fans of a piece of IP wherein they use that IP to make their own films. (Some have jokingly argued that this season of “Game of Thrones” is a glorified “fan film” vs. an adaptation because George R.R. ous Song of Ice and Fire series upon which the HBO series is based. But, again, don’t get me started.)

Based on my understanding of fair use and copyright law, just about every single instance of a fan film is a copyright violation. They are not necessarily making money from these films; but for the most part, the films are not making any kind of commentary or critique on the IP. They are not transformative in purpose either (i.e. education). They are entertainment for entertainment’s sake, just like the original IP.

Now, some IP holders encourage fan films and allow a vibrant fan film community to flourish. Fan films keep the culture alive and fans excited about the traditional IP. Lucasfilm is a perfect example of that in how they’ve responded to and embraced the “Star Wars” fan film community. (One of the most celebrated “Star Wars” fan films recently was last year’s “Darth Maul – Apprentice” with over 14 million views as of this writing.)

The Battle of Axanar

Earlier this year, after a legal battle that lasted nearly a year, Paramount Pictures and CBS (the owners of “Star Trek”) won a judgment against Axanar Productions. Axanar had raised over $1 million in crowdfunding to produce a feature-length version of it’s popular short film “Prelude to Axanar.” Axanar claimed fair use. A U.S. district court judge said no.

Axanar and CBS/Paramount eventually reached a settlement whereby Axanar agreed to substantially change the length and content of their film (which naturally put them in a bit of a bind as they raised over a million dollars to make a feature).

What made this case particularly stand out was the fact that there have been “Star Trek” fan films literally for decades. Dating back as early as the 80s. Even Axanar’s original film “Prelude to Axanar” was made with no objection from CBS/Paramount and as of this writing has over 3 million views.

Don’t get them started

What set the studio off, in this case, was the scope of this new project. In addition to the feature-length and the $1 million+ budget, it stars well-known actors like Richard Hatch (Apollo from the original “Battlestar Galactica” and Tom Sarek in the SyFy Channel remake), Gary Graham, and Kate Vernon (also from SyFy’s “BSG”). In the eyes of CBS/Paramount, the feature-length fan film with those production values and cast, was too much. (especially with the new “Star Trek: Discovery” series on the horizon).

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