Paramount Must Explain 'Star Trek' in Court or Lose Ownership

Copyright law is confusing, but the Trekkies are on it.

Paramount is currently in court, trying to stop the production of a fan-made crowdfunded Star Trek prequel film on the grounds it violates the studio’s ownership of the copyright. Launched in 2014, the film Prelude to Axanar covers the missions of the first Federation warship and takes place during the childhood of James T. Kirk but well away from him. The problem with all that is that it definitely shares a universe with every other Star Trek film and movie. The question becomes whether or not Star Trek is the universe or what happens within it.

Ponder that for a second.

The reason this issue has come to the fore is that most fans don’t give a damn what the answer to that question actually is, which is why, over the course of three different Kickstarter campaigns, the Axanar team has raised over one million dollars, and is still seeking some finishing funds.

Enter the lawyers. Obviously, they can claim to own Star Trek because they acquired the series from Lucille Ball’s Desilu Productions in the late 1960s. Now they’ve been merged with CBS and that’s how we’re getting both a new TV series and a continuing film franchise. But the Axanar team has a card up its sleeve.

The Paramount lawsuit claims that this infringes upon “thousands of copyrights” and the Axanar team has asked the simple question: “Which ones?” Because Star Trek now exists over several different universes, time periods, and casts, it’s not so simple. The universe is so spread out, it is almost impossible to define what Star Trek actually is. To that end, the burden is on Paramount to explain what Star Trek is — in a legal sense.

As The Hollywood Reporter notes:

“The defendants also nod to new characters, sets and plots in Voyager and Deep Space Nine and the various films (including the upcoming series and film) to arrive at the argument that Paramount and CBS aren’t doing an adequate job recognizing the vast differences between the films and television episodes nor meeting minimum pleading standards. Producers of the crowdfunded film argue they shouldn’t be left guessing about what they’ve infringed nor should they be required to sift through each movie and TV episode to determine the claims against them.”

Essentially, Paramount is going to have to bring in the entirety of Reddit’s r/FanTheories to put pushpins and yarn conspiracy boards together, linking every separate universe of Gene Roddenberry’s empire. And this is why, from a legal perspective, Disney’s decision to destroy the Star Wars extended universe was a masterstroke. The lines there aren’t blurry, which means the studio can encourage fan-made tributes without freaking out about the nature of its ownership.

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