Spat Over ‘Star Trek’ Fan Film Headed to Trial

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A jury will be the final frontier for a fledgling production company intent on creating its own Star Trek movie titled “Axanar,” a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

Paramount Pictures and CBS survived a challenge by Axanar Productions, which produced a 20-minute YouTube video and plans to create a full-length motion picture that is a prequel to the original Star Trek TV series.

The planned film will focus on the character Garth of Izar, who only appeared once in a 1969 Star Trek TV episode, and pits the fictional United Federation of Planets against the Klingon Empire.

A year ago, Paramount and CBS sued to stop the production claiming they have ownership of all things Star Trek – including the fan-created Klingon language.

U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner denied two motions to dismiss by Axanar and ordered a jury trial to determine whether there are subjective substantial similarities between the planned Axanar work and existing Star Trek works.

The motions raised core issues of whether Axanar works are ” substantially similar” to the copyrighted Star Trek works and whether Axanar has a valid fair-use defense against copyright violations, Klausner wrote.

Axanar argued since its planned Star Trek work is not completed the court cannot determine copyright violations, and asked Klausner to dismiss the complaint.

Klausner disagreed, saying “evidence of a final shooting script ‘is factually distinguishable’” and enough to render a summary judgment.

The judge also said the Garth of Izar character is highly developed, with “physical and conceptual qualities” which were enhanced further by a 2003 novel Paramount copyrighted, titled “Garth of Izar.”

“Garth’s identity as a Federation hero sufficiently delineates him and sets him apart from a stock spaceship officer,” Klausner wrote.

“There is no dispute that plaintiffs have ownership of copyrights to the Star Trek copyrighted works and that defendants have access to these works,” Klausner wrote.

“Thus, the copyright infringement claim can live long and prosper if the Axanar works are substantially similar.”

That left the matter of whether “Axanar” shares substantial similarity with copyrighted Star Trek works.

Axanar argued its work is inspired by many sources and is not substantially similar to copyrighted Star Trek works.

Klausner disagreed, saying the production company intentionally uses “elements from the Star Trek copyrighted works to create works that stay true to Star Trek canon down to excruciating details.”

Yet, Klausner ordered a jury trial to determine subjective substantial similarity between the Axanar work and Star Trek works since there is no existing case law in the Ninth Circuit to determine the matter.

If the jury trial finds subjective substantial similarity exists, Klausner said the fair-use doctrine will not protect Axanar against copyright infringement.

Axanar’s work would be “rightfully considered derivative works of the Star Trek copyrighted works” and not protected by fair use “because derivatives are ‘an important economic incentive to the creation of originals,'” Klausner wrote.

Klausner said it also will be up to a jury to determine whether Axanar willfully infringed upon Star Trek works, if it determines substantial similarity exists.

He said “findings of direct, contributory and vicarious copyright infringement” are contingent on whether the jury finds subjective substantial similarity exists between the Axanar and Star Trek works.

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