Star Trek 50th Anniversary

I've had a chance to read over the new fan-film guidelines released by CBS and Paramount earlier today. And it doesn't make encouraging reading.

Despite being "big believers in reasonable fan fiction and fan creativity", these rules sound the death knell for Star Trek Continues, Star Trek Phase II and any other fan fiction episode that's more than 15 minutes long.

The additional restrictions make sure fan fiction as we've known it until now, is dead in the water.

Whether that means that CBS/Paramount will request that existing full-length episodes be taken down because they do not conform to these guidelines remains to be seen.

You can read those guidelines here (I have more to say below them):

CBS and Paramount Pictures are big believers in reasonable fan fiction and fan creativity, and, in particular, want amateur fan filmmakers to showcase their passion for Star Trek. Therefore, CBS and Paramount Pictures will not object to, or take legal action against, Star Trek fan productions that are non-professional and amateur and meet the following guidelines.

Guidelines for Avoiding Objections:

  1. The fan production 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.
  2. The title of the fan production or any parts cannot include the name “Star Trek.” However, the title must contain a subtitle with the phrase: “A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION” in plain typeface. The fan production cannot use the term “official” in either its title or subtitle or in any marketing, promotions or social media for the fan production.
  3. The content in the fan production must be original, not reproductions, recreations or clips from any Star Trek production. If non-Star Trek third party content is used, all necessary permissions for any third party content should be obtained in writing.
  4. If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek uniforms, accessories, toys and props, these items must be official merchandise and not bootleg items or imitations of such commercially available products.
  5. The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.
  6. The fan production must be non-commercial:
    • CBS and Paramount Pictures do not object to limited fundraising for the creation of a fan production, whether 1 or 2 segments and consistent with these guidelines, so long as the total amount does not exceed $50,000, including all platform fees, and when the $50,000 goal is reached, all fundraising must cease.
    • The fan production must only be exhibited or distributed on a no-charge basis and/or shared via streaming services without generating revenue.
    • The fan production cannot be distributed in a physical format such as DVD or Blu-ray.
    • The fan production cannot be used to derive advertising revenue including, but not limited to, through for example, the use of pre or post-roll advertising, click-through advertising banners, that is associated with the fan production.
    • No unlicensed Star Trek-related or fan production-related merchandise or services can be offered for sale or given away as premiums, perks or rewards or in connection with the fan production fundraising.
    • The fan production cannot derive revenue by selling or licensing fan-created production sets, props or costumes.
  7. The fan production must be family friendly and suitable for public presentation. Videos must not include profanity, nudity, obscenity, pornography, depictions of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or any harmful or illegal activity, or any material that is offensive, fraudulent, defamatory, libelous, disparaging, sexually explicit, threatening, hateful, or any other inappropriate content. The content of the fan production cannot violate any individual’s right of privacy.
  8. The fan production must display the following disclaimer in the on-screen credits of the fan productions and on any marketing material including the fan production website or page hosting the fan production:“Star Trek and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film intended for recreational use.  No commercial exhibition or distribution is permitted. No alleged independent rights will be asserted against CBS or Paramount Pictures.”
  9. Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law.
  10. Fan productions cannot create or imply any association or endorsement by CBS or Paramount Pictures.

CBS and Paramount Pictures reserve the right to revise, revoke and/or withdraw these guidelines at any time in their own discretion. These guidelines are not a license and do not constitute approval or authorization of any fan productions or a waiver of any rights that CBS or Paramount Pictures may have with respect to fan fiction created outside of these guidelines.

The Fallout

So should we blame Alec Peters (Axanar) for being the instigator of this missive with how he handled the development of the Axanar feature-length movie and how he dealt with CBS and Paramount in the ongoing Axanar lawsuit?

Or was his production simply the straw that broke the camel's back and if it wasn't Axanar, it would have been some other production?

This is a real kick in the nuts for fans, especially in this 50th Anniversary year. The celebrations are already tarnished now before they've properly begun.

Back in the 1970s, Paramount was on its last legs and the studio was saved by the box office receipts for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It seems they were never really thankful and treated the Star Trek franchise like Cousin It, rolling it out for a bit of air every couple of years. Paramount never understood, and still doesn't, what the power of that franchise is when placed in the right hands.

Many years ago, CBS issued take-down requests to owners of Star Trek fan sites because they were using unlicensed elements (images, logos, etc) on their sites. There was a huge backlash and CBS backed off. They're getting heavy handed again.

CBS seems to forget that Star Trek fans put $20 million in profits every year into their coffers from the sale of merchandise. They also don't realize, or have forgotten, that fan fiction episodes are essentially free advertising for all that merchandise, keeping the franchise alive when they couldn't be bothered to.

Les Moonves is currently the CEO of CBS. I've read comments he's made and seen some interviews he's given about various CBS projects. The only thing that interests him is money. Forget quality. This guy comes across as a greed-is-good disciple of a 1980s Gordon Gecko. He practically rubs his hands with glee at the thoughts of the money CBS will make from airing the new Star Trek series on the subscription-based CBS All Access (personally, I think he's completely deluded in that).

A guy like that running a company spells disaster. His focus is all wrong. His deleterious effects may be thwarted or ameliorated by the good people hired to create the new series. But if Moonves is one of these hands-on types who likes to give his "input" and more, expects that "input" to be acted upon, the new series is in trouble.

What Will be Affected?

Any production that makes episodes more than 15 minutes long or that uses professional actors or crew in any capacity are expressly forbidden. So that's the end of Star Trek Continues, Star Trek Phase II, Star Trek: Renegades, Starship Farragut and many other productions.

In addition, fans cannot make a series. The most they're allowed to do is create a single two-part standalone episode (30 mins max). And that's it.

And even if you still want to create such a short episode, you can't use costumes, props or toys you bought. You have to make everything from scratch.

For authenticity, these series need replica sets and people generally need to travel to the sets to make these fan productions. All other considerations aside, it would not be economically feasible to have people travel a distance to make a 15-minute episode.

Perhaps what CBS, in particular fears, is the quality of these productions and that they will essentially be competitors to the new series. Other series affected are:

  • Starship Exeter
  • Star Trek: Dark Armada
  • Star Trek: Hidden Frontier
  • Star Trek: Intrepid
  • Star Trek: Odyssey
  • Star Trek: Phoenix
  • Star Trek: Progeny

Star Trek Beyond

There was already a contingent of fans who were not going to support the upcoming movie. Anton Yelchin's untimely death may, ironically, have put more bums on cinema seats. After all, an artist is never so valuable as after they're dead.

But these new fan-production guidelines have soured the waters and other fans will probably not go to the movie in protest. Hands up, I'm not a fan of the new movies (and I thought Into Darkness was execrable) but I don't dismiss Beyond out-of-hand as it has a different writer and director. I expect to be disappointed by it but I do want to at least give it the benefit of the doubt.

Prior to the release of the new guidelines, we could have said the new movie was a success or failure based purely on personal preference. I think CBS and Paramount have shot themselves in the foot now and both the new movie and new series will suffer from fewer viewers than they might otherwise have had.

Anyone going to a con this year should ask the various guests in the Q&A sessions how they feel about how the fans are being treated. And fans should express their outrage at this treatment.

It's becoming a train wreck. The 50th Anniversary is looking like it's the year when Star Trek goes into a nursing home and then quietly fades away over the next several years. We'll reminisce about the good old days, recount missions we enjoyed, repeat dialog and go to conventions. But each year, fewer will attend. And, like an old soldier, Star Trek will slip quietly into that good night.

Unless the fans rebel...the way they've done before. Let's not forget that $20 million per year we gift to CBS. Les Moonves is all about money, so talk to him in a language he understands. Writing letters won't do it. You gotta punch him in the wallet!

So what's your take on the new guidelines, what they mean for Star Trek and its future?

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