Usually, fan film productions rarely get attention from the properties they're honoring. However, in the case of Axanar, the fan-based production faces a potential lawsuit from CBS, which own the rights to Star Trek, with claims that the fan film infringes upon that copyright.
This action by CBS could change how future fan film productions get made, and could even put a stop to any and all similar future productions. Its ramifications go well beyond Star Trek, which is why many people have spoken out in support of Axanar.
Even Justin Lin, the director of Star Trek Beyond, the next film in the franchise, offered support to the fan production, stating that "Star Trek belongs to all of us."
Regardless of how fans feel, though, CBS seems intent on pursuing legal action against Axanar. That could set a scary precedent for Star Trek fans — as well as fans of other franchises — who want to create something set in their favorite universe.
"Any ruling in this case may provide guidance to Axanar and other fan productions about what elements from the Star Trek universe can be used in future fan films, especially if certain elements are deemed to be unprotected by copyright law," Erin R. Ranahan of Winston & Strawn LLP, who represent Axanar in this case, said. "As far as any fair use determination, that involves a balancing test that is hard to predict and fact specific, so a ruling either in favor of or against fair use may not necessarily provide precedent about whether another fan film may be considered fair use in another case (by another jury or judge). Our goal in defending this case is to ultimately encourage more creativity within fan communities rather than stifle it."
Axanar, as a project, was already well underway when CBS decided to pursue legal action against it. The team spent much of the last part of 2015 working on descriptions of shots, as well as working with VFX supervisor Tobias Richter. CBS' legal action, though, affects the film's production schedule and could continue to impact it throughout the year.
"Yes, well, we have pushed back shooting the beginning of Axanar by at least four months, but much will depend on how the case proceeds," Alec Peters, Axanar's creator, executive producer and co-writer, said.
"Alec and I were also deep into casting the film, with a number of roles filled with people I was very excited about," director and editor Robert Meyer Burnett said. "Unfortunately, the lawsuit curtailed this process midstream. I hope there comes a day we can announce the entire cast for the film."
The ultimate goal, though, is that the courts rule that Axanar, as a fan film production, does not fall under CBS' copyright claims. Peters hopes to give fans what they've waited for and what they've crowdfunded, even if that means that CBS eventually even takes ownership of the movie.
"We hope to be able to make Axanar," Peters said. "The overwhelming majority of fans who watch Prelude to Axanar are really excited about seeing our feature. Most want to see CBS acquire Axanar and make it official Star Trek. The feedback is fantastic."
Axanar does have one thing going for it: the support of Star Trek fans, including those people working on CBS' existing Star Trek projects.
"Well, Bryan Fuller from the new Star Trek TV series is a huge fan," Peters said. "[Bryan] Singer loved Prelude to Axanar. And pretty much every Star Trek fan who watches Prelude to Axanar loves it. We have an unheard of 8.6 rating on IMDB and a 100 to 1 positive rating on YouTube, where we have had over two million views."