Thursday, 23 June 2016

Star Trek Fan Series: Comments on New CBS/Paramount Restrictions

In the short time since I've mutated from someone who knew nothing about Star Trek fan series into someone who knows an unreasonable amount, the official reaction to these productions by the copyright holders has gone into major flux. Until 2015, fans were left pretty well free to create what they liked, and my list in the link above shows they did so vigorously, often in lame and awkward ways, sometimes in wonderful, exciting ways. Then the Axanar lawsuit sprang up, and 2016 saw a grinding halt to many fan productions. The May dropping of that suit seemed to signal a return to the previous status quo, or something close to it. Even though they got Abrams to announce that, it did otherwise feel like a conciliatory gesture, and acceptance of symbiosis, rather than parasitism.

[Edit: It seems I'm a little behind, and the lawsuit has not actually been dropped at all, despite the public claim by Abrams.]

Now an official set of guidelines has been jointly released by CBS and Paramount, who control the Star Trek intellectual property, and it seems they've rather missed the fans' point, or were bluffing us all along. Their new restrictions seem to expect little more than volunteer brand advertising, not deep story-telling that creates entirely new material. In particular, their requirements that fan productions not exceed 15 minutes, and not form ongoing series, using only officially licensed merchandise, would seem to spell out almost exactly: "Make a standard short Youtube clip to sell our toys."

Maybe that's just my interpretation, but I think what they're undoubtedly not saying, in any sense, is, "Please continue to tell stories of your own that expand on all the many possibilities of this setting".

Applying these guidelines retroactively to the list I've been drawing up in my older blog post, and cutting out all productions that violate them, would leave hardly any behind. Of the 42 series and movies on my list (at the time that I write this), I believe only the following don't break the new guidelines and would be allowed:
  • Redshirt Blues
  • Steam Trek: The Moving Picture
And that's it. Two little parodies made decades ago - and I'm not even certain Redshirt Blues passes the 'officially licensed merchandise' rule perfectly. A couple others might sneak through if they take the words 'Star' and/or 'Trek' out of their titles, but these are still only tiny little shorts. The remaining 90% of productions are the big, narrative-driven ones, the ones with actual stories. And sure, I've already claimed that many of those stories are shit, but that's the nature of art; it can't all be good. But absolutely none of it can be good, if it's banned outright.

I have strong thoughts about the jurisprudence behind intellectual property laws, and that inevitably leads into a much wider socio-economics lecture. But let me keep this post short and focused. The bottom line is that these new guideline are a de facto ban on exactly the kinds of productions that fans have been making. CBS/Paramount may have found it awkward from a publicity point of view to shut down Axanar so late in its gestation, but these new guidelines effectively shut down everything of this nature that might be made in future. It's really the same demand from them, but with a grandparent clause added to keep the Axanar hubbub from spoiling their 2016 movie and 2017 series releases.

And that's the major point of this post: To point out that CBS and Paramount really didn't back off at all. They just stepped more quietly to the same point. (I knew we couldn't trust any apparent good news delivered by Abrams.)

[EDIT: This proposal seems like a reasonable, constructive response, if it can grow large enough.]

[EDIT: A week later, there's some useful follow up to consider.]