It’s been an interesting week for the legal side of fandom. In an ongoing situation, the makers of the Star Trek fan film series Axanar are being sued by Paramount and CBS for copyright infringement. A lot of copyright holders choose not to go to court over fan films and other fanworks, but Axanar is different than most fan films in that it has raised over one million US dollars via crowdfunding.
Reactions to this case run an interesting gamut. An editorial for Krypton Radio (warning: auto-play audio at link) suggests that “there doesn’t seem to be ANY upside for Paramount, even if it prevails in the case,” because Axanar Productions can’t pay significant damages and the lawsuit will be bad publicity during Star Trek’s 50th anniversary year.
Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Wil Wheaton opposes Axanar Productions, saying “they took that [crowdfunding] money and spent it to build a studio, which will (presumably) be used to turn a profit from other productions once Axanar’s production is completed… They’ve put all fan films at risk, because they exploited the passion and love that Trekkies have for Star Trek to get money.” (And indeed, it seems that Axanar is not the only fan film CBS and Paramount have taken notice of.)
An article for Forbes suggests that this case won’t so much be a tide-turning legal decision as it will be a tide-turning corporate wake-up call. The article states that Paramount and CBS “have decided to fight the unstoppable snowball of fan production rather than finding a strategy that would embrace fan work as part of an open (though still profitable) franchise. It seems that Hollywood needs another structural change… [in order to] find a structure that includes fan work in the ecosystem of Hollywood franchises” so that copyright holders can profit directly from the trend, like how Kindle Worlds allows copyright holders to profit from fanfiction.
And what do fans think about this? Well, there’s a petition with over 12,000 signatures so far asking that the lawsuit be dropped. As one fan succinctly phrases their stance:
If you’re confused by the legalities of fanworks and commercial ventures, don’t worry, the OTW’s Legal committee is here to save the day! They’ve addressed specific questions and common misconceptions about fair use, as well as writing various resources on fanworks and intellectual property law.
In related news, The Australia Productivity Commission has become the second government study in Australia to recommend the country adopt fair use laws. As the report explains, “One of the key advantages of a fair use over a fair dealing exception is that the law can adapt to new circumstances and technologies. Under a fair dealing exception, legislative change is required to expand the categories of use deemed to be fair. In contrast, under fair use, courts have the latitude to determine if, on the facts, a new use of copyright material is fair.” With fair use, it would be easier to make it official whether new uses for intellectual property are allowed.
Finally, VividCon 2016, the annual fanvid convention, will be held August 12-14 in Chicago, Illinois, and nominations are currently being accepted for the VividCon Scholarship. If you know someone who’s never been to VividCon, but would love to go and can help out, then make sure to nominate them.
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