CBS and Paramount Pictures announce new guidelines on ‘Star Trek’ fan films

Star Trek fan films
Two fans dressed up as Klingons at the sci-fi fan meeting FedCon in Bonn on May 13, 2016.
(Caroline Seidel / EPA)

CBS and Paramount Pictures have a message for the “Star Trek” fan-film community: Live long and prosper … within limits.

Six months after filing a copyright infringement lawsuit against the makers of an ambitious crowdfunded fan film called “Star Trek: Axanar,” Paramount and CBS issued new guidelines Thursday directed at those looking to create their own “Star Trek”-inspired works.

While acknowledging the passionate fan base that has sustained the “Star Trek” universe for 50 years, the companies set 10 new rules delineating what will and will not be tolerated when it comes to fan-made “Trek” movies – rules that they said in a joint statement were aimed at “bringing fan films back to their roots.”

According to the newly stated guidelines, fan productions must be “less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than 2 segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.” As a planned feature-length film, “Axanar” would be in clear violation of those terms, as would a long-running web series called “Star Trek: New Voyages.”


“Star Trek” fan films must also be fully amateur productions, with no compensation for the creators or actors and no involvement from anyone currently or formerly employed on any official “Star Trek” film or series. In the past, alumni from the “Star Trek” franchise like Nichelle Nichols and George Takei have occasionally appeared in fan films.

To avoid running afoul of CBS and Paramount lawyers, “Star Trek” fan films must be “non-commercial,” generating no revenue either directly or through the selling of merchandise. Crowd-funding campaigns for such films cannot exceed $50,000 in donations (the makers of “Axanar” raised more than $1.2 million), and the titles of any fan-created work cannot include the words “Star Trek” and must include the subtitle “A Star Trek Fan Production.”

The “Axanar” case has sparked considerable controversy within the “Star Trek” fan community, with some championing the film as a David-and-Goliath battle for creative freedom and others sharply criticizing the film’s creators for overstepping their bounds and threatening the entire world of fan films. 

In an interview with The Times last week, Robert Meyer Burnett – who is set to direct “Axanar” if it ever goes into production – predicted that, in response to the film, CBS and Paramount would take steps to strictly limit such fan productions.


“I think the thinking now is we need to be punished for whatever perceived transgressions there are,” he said. “If we are able to make ‘Axanar,’ I think it’s going to be seriously curtailed in terms of our ability to make the film that we were making.”

How exactly the new fan film rules will affect the ongoing “Axanar” lawsuit is, for now, unclear; the two sides remain in settlement talks. After the guidelines were announced, the official “Star Trek: Axanar” Twitter feed called them “draconian.”

In a statement, “Axanar” co-writer and producer Alec Peters said, “These guidelines appear to have been tailor-made to shut down all of the major fan productions and stifle fandom. In no way can that be seen as supportive or encouraging, which is very disheartening.”

With the latest film in the “Star Trek” franchise, “Star Trek Beyond,” set to open July 22 and a new “Star Trek” TV series due next year, CBS and Paramount are attempting to walk a fine line: drawing sharp legal lines around their copyrighted intellectual property without alienating or antagonizing the diehard “Star Trek” fan community.

At a fan event last month for “Star Trek Beyond,” the film’s producer, J.J. Abrams – who directed the 2009 “Star Trek” big-screen reboot and its 2013 sequel – said that, for his part, he believes that such litigation is “not an appropriate way to deal with the fans.”  

“The fans should be celebrating this thing,” Abrams said. “The fans of ‘Star Trek’ are part of this world.”

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