CBS’s copyright claim against a 2008 German fan film leaves fans scratching their heads

cbs-cr-logoI’m guessing that the makers of the German fan film STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE – THE NEW GENERATION were saying “Was ist los?” (which loosely translates to WTF?) when they got the notice this past Tuesday from YouTube that CBS had filed a copyright claim against four of their fan film videos!  And most confusing of all, these were videos which had been online since 2007!!!

So what in the name of Gott was going on here???

enterprise-the-new-generationFirst, let me give you a little background on this fan film.  Back in 2008, after years of painstaking production involving Star Trek action figures, custom-built miniature sets, and countless DSLR camera still photos, Bavarian-born Jürgen Kaiser completed and released the very first ever stop-motion Star Trek: Enterprise fan film, Star Trek ENTERPRISE Der Zeitspiegel (“The Time Mirror”).

It was surprisingly well done with an engaging story, decent VFX, and solid characterizations of the NX-01 crew (with notable absences by Dr. Phlox and Ensign Sato because, I’m assuming, there was no Hoshi Sato action figure and Phlox’s action figure only came wearing an environmental suit).  However, it was also entirely in German, meaning most non-German speaking fans (like me) couldn’t enjoy it as anything other than a visual experience.

That changed a year later when several members of the Star Trek: Phase II cast lent their talents to translating and re-recording the dialog in English.  A new English version, also a half hour long, was released with the new title “Crossroads.”

In June of this year, just a week before the new fan film guidelines were announced, Jürgen Kaiser released his second stop-motion Star Trek fan film, Star Trek ENTERPRISE II Der Anfang vom Ende (“The Beginning of the End”).  This one is an hour long, and it’s still entirely in German.  However, it’s close-captioned with English subtitles, and it’s certainly worth checking out.  The production quality is amazingly good, the characterizations even better than in “Crossroads,” and the VFX have improved immeasurably.

Jürgen himself had help writing and producing this time around, but he still self-funded and built all of the miniature sets himself.  Not wanting to get into any trouble with the studios, Jürgen didn’t do any crowd-funding.  Instead, he spent enough, Jürgen says, to buy a good-sized new automobile.  He’s essentially been working on this latest film since he finished his first one–and that’s seven years!  You should definitely check it out.

Now, remember that I said this fan film was released before the new guidelines came out.  So according to John Van Citters during his Engage podcast interview, both the most recent project as well as the first film should be allowed by CBS to remain up on YouTube.

Well, think again.  On Tuesday, Jürgen published the following message on his Facebook page (which I’ll provide a translation for after displaying the original):

Hallo Leute,

Weiter geht es mit der Intergalaktischen Säuberung von Meinen YouTube Kanal, von Seiten CBS!

Heute Nacht waren 4 Videos betroffen. Hierbei ging es nicht um das Bildmaterial oder um die Musik. Nein es ging um die Audiospuren, also um einzelne Soundspuren. Es ist schon sehr erstaunlich was für mühe sich CBS macht. Weil diese Sperren nicht Automatisch sondern Manuell Angezeigt werden.

Was noch verwunderlicher ist, das bis jetzt nur Material gesperrt wird, was vor 2013 Online ging. Es ist sogar ein Video dabei aus dem Jahre 2007.

Natürlich wurde wieder Einspruch eigereicht und die Videos sind wieder Online, solange ein Urteil von Seiten CBS und YouTube gesprochen wird.

And thanks to my friend from SMALL ACCESS, Burkhard Musik-Flieger Weber, I can tell you what that means in English:

Hey Folks,

CBS continues with the intergalactic cleansing of my YouTube channel.

Tonight, 4 videos were affected. But this time it wasn’t about the footage or the music. No, it was about the audio tracks, single audio tracks to be precise. It’s really astonishing what kind of trouble CBS puts into this. Cause these bans are displayed not automatically but manually.

What’s even more surprising is the fact that up until now, only material that was online before 2013 is getting banned. It even affects a video from 2007.

Of course objection was raised against it and the videos are online again, as long as the verdict from CBS and YouTube is pending.

So to be clear, it wasn’t the hour-long fan film which he just posted that was being hit with a copyright claim by CBS.  It was the 2008 fan film and an even older teaser from 2007 that had been online nearly a decade with no trouble at all from the studios.  In fact, back in 2007, while Jürgen was still in development, he actually contacted Paramount Licensing (ownership of Star Trek did not transfer to CBS until 2009) and received the following note back from them…

enterprise-the-new-generation-letterAnd the translation:

Hi Jürgen,

Everything is good then. 🙂 And we’re delighted by the fact that especially the German fans are that active! Yeah – Rock on! 🙂

It would have been difficult if you would had imagined some concrete support from us. As a licensee our hands are always somewhat tied here, unfortunately. Best wishes, yours Paramount Pictures Team

So yes, fans were scratching their heads–especially Jürgen himself–about what was going on with this copyright claim.  And CBS wasn’t even complaining about the obvious, that Jürgen was making a fan film about their Star Trek: Enterprise intellectual property or using licensed action figures in his project.  No, it was about single audio tracks.  That doesn’t mean music, folks, because the scores for both fan films were completely original, composed specifically for the two productions.

So what was CBS going after…the sound of the phasers?  Heck, dozens of other fan films have phasers, tricorders, swishing doors, transporters, bridge background noise, going to warp speed, etc.

Was there a chance this wasn’t CBS but rather some impostor?  Possibly.  But one would assume that YouTube wouldn’t accept a copyright claim by someone claiming to be CBS without actually doing at least a cursory background check, right?  And let’s face it, you wouldn’t expect an eight-year-old Star Trek fan film to have enemies out to sabotage it.  Maybe one of the bigger, more controversial fan series might be a target, but this one from Germany?  Hardly seems likely.

For a couple of days, some Star Trek fans (at least the few who knew about it, but word was spreading quickly) feared that CBS had suddenly decided to go after fan productions and try to get them taken down from YouTube one-by-one.  In fact, I was getting a blog ready myself, trying to contact the producers for an interview.

But within a few days, the point became moot (at least for now).  Not wanting to go gently into that good night, Jürgen challenged the claim.  On Friday morning, he posted the following message to the STAR TREK ENTERPRISE II Der Anfang vom Ende Facebook Page:

Hallo Leute,

Ist schon etwas Lustig was zurzeit mit CBS und YouTube auf meinen Kanal los ist!

Nun zieht CBS alle Vorwürfe vom urheberrechtlichen Anspruch zurück.

Warum erst mit Video ODER Kanal Sperrung Drohen und Nun das?

Ist das eine Kampanie um uns Fan Film Produzenten einzuschüchtern?

Aber mit mir werdet Ihr damit keinen Erfolg haben. Ich habe mich an Euren Regeln gehalten und habe den Film sogar ohne Spenden finanziert. Die JK – Produktion wollte mit diesem Fan Film etwas Gutes tun, für die Fans und nicht gegen die Fans. Für uns ist der Wirtschaftliche Hintergrund nicht so wichtig, wir wollen die Fans Unterhalten und das Fandom am Leben erhalten.

Ich bin nun gespannt wie es weiter geht!

„Hallo JK-Produktion Stop Motion Studio, Nach der Prüfung deines Einspruchs hat CBS CID den urheberrechtlichen Anspruch auf dein YouTube-Video zurückgezogen. Videotitel: “Star Trek Enterprise Crossroads Part 1.mpg” Das YouTube-Team”

And thank goodness I’ve got a universal translator (danke again, Burkhard):

Hi Folks,

It’s kind of funny what’s happening on my channel with CBS and YouTube at the moment!

Now, CBS has withdrawn all copyright claims.

Why did they threaten me with the take-down of my videos or to shutdown my channel in the first place and now this?

Is that a campaign to frighten us Fan Film Producers?

But you won’t be successful with me. I followed your rules and produced the film even without any donations. JK-Productions wanted to do something good with this Fan Film, for the fans and not against the fans. The commercial background is not that important for us, we wanted to entertain the fans and keep the fandom alive.

I’m curious what’s next!

“Hallo JK Production Stop Motion Studio, after review of your objection CBS CID has withdrawn his copyright claim against your YouTube video. Video title: “Star Trek Enterprise Crossroads Part 1.mpg” The YouTube Team”

And there you have it.  What happened?  We still don’t know.  What will happen next?  We have no idea.  Was this a test fire of a new fan film strategy on the part of the studio to instill fear into the hearts of producers?  Was it a new guy at CBS wanting to make a name for himself and discovering too late that the studio isn’t trying to pull down fan films from YouTube after all?

Was it a glitch?  Did an automated YouTube system accidentally flag these videos and preemptively suspend them during a random sweep of old videos?  Fan film VFX guy Gabriel Koerner commented to me: “A fan film trailer I cut for somebody that’s been up since 2011 only JUST became ineligible for monetization. These filters weren’t in place a few years ago so older videos still get combed over. Like mine did recently.”

We can engage in all the speculation we want to.  The fact is, we know nothing, Jon Snow.  The claim was made, challenged, and then withdrawn.  Unless something like this happens again or the studio decides to explain their actions (if it was even their action), what actually went on over there at CBS or YouTube might forever be a mystery to us fans.

But hey, at least the fan film got to stay up on YouTube, right?

30 thoughts on “CBS’s copyright claim against a 2008 German fan film leaves fans scratching their heads”

  1. Btw: The Monologe at the beginning of STAR TREK ENTERPRISE II Der Anfang vom Ende, where the spaceshuttle is shown, the voice you hear is the original sychro-voice of Capt Archer.

  2. Maybe they weren’t counting on so much publicity so soon. Try to take out the little guys without any fanfare. Oops how’d that work for you CBS?

  3. CBS previously claimed publicly that existing fan films would be grandfathered. Since they publicly stated it they would be prohibited from making a claim in court due to estoppel.

    1. Anyone has a claim. It doesn’t take much to file this stuff. What it takes is someone who has the money to defend it. That’s where corporate America and Hollywood generally find themselves coming out on top.

  4. Mein Gott in Himmel!

    Looks to me like CBS/Paramount has their head shoved so far up their ass, they’re giving themselves a tonsillectomy.

    I certainly hope the judge who hears the Axanar lawsuit takes this into consideration when he makes his judgement.

    This is pure lunacy.

    Doug

  5. My money is on some Axa-Hater impersonation of CBS. Kind of like a prank phone call. Only this one went to YouTube and or Google. Alot of that stuff is automated. IP addresses can and are spoofed all the time. You could even spoof another person’s phone number. I know first hand when I got a call from my own phone number, which was a little freaky. And, it wasn’t long ago that you, Jonathan wrote about the German Studio’s work. Coincidence? Maybe, but, I’m dying to know the truth now. Nothing like a good mystery.

    1. I don’t recall writing about this particular fan film yet, David. I’ve been planning an interview with one of the writer/producers who speaks English, but with all the craziness of Jayden starting Kindergarten, his birthday coming up on Tuesday, and all the big news recently in the world of fan films, I haven’t had time to pursue new interviews. I’ve got about a half dozen of them cued up, and I’m currently transcribing another recent one that was nearly three hours long (!!!!) and is taking forever to trim down in size. But Jurgen Kaiser and Enterprise: The New Generation hasn’t been featured here yet.

      1. OK, I’ve lost it. Was a link posted on small access? Maybe YouTube was doing my thinking for me one day? That’s probably it, because I do know I watched the video, as a matter of fact, I found it in my history, but it’s the latest published in June. Must have been all the fan films I’ve watched that Google was making suggestions. Anyways, thanks for clearing that up for me.

  6. CBS continues to poison its fan base. How disappointing but unsurprising. This is fast becoming a lesson of what NOT to do for other franchises. They continue to go after those who use very little actually copied IP elements and leave the productions that are 100% carbon copies alone. It beggars belief and stinks of favouritism.

  7. You know, this strikes me as kind of foolish and snarky, for a whole bunch of reasons:
    1. when you play with other people’s IP without a license, you are gambling right from the get-go.
    2. When IP sells, the new owners may have different ideas and those without contracts/licenses that would survive the transfer are automatically at risk
    3. the clock starts when the IP owner discovers infringement, not when the infringement occurs
    4. I’ve got enough issues trying to hunt down infringers for one item – I can’t imagine how labor intensive and time-consuming it must be to find all of those stepping on Star Trek IP.
    5. Not necessarily in this case, but it can be the situation where a licenser of IP engages in notifications or even law suits on behalf of a licensee or some other entity that has their own IP bundled up with the original – not seeing the actual contracts, no one can say what rights are retained/reserved by various people working on the show; maybe there is a costume designer who arranged a killer deal back in the 60s…
    6. see #1. Anyone making fan works based on (especially hot) properties who does not do their clearances is asking for trouble. There’s only one way to make a Star Trek fan film, and that’s not to use anything Star Trek in it. Going beyond that moves everything into the Twilight Zone.

    1. The problem for fans who make fan films is that a lack of enforcement over 50 years kinda developed a momentum. And even though CBS/P are trying to pull the emergency brake on the train right now, it’s still a very big train and can’t stop on a dime. And of course, the other question is: should it stop? I’ve watched fan films from other franchises (Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Doctor Who) that have blown me away…and those studios are embracing them (or at worst, ignoring them). Are CBS and Paramount making the right move in reining in fan films? It’s not a black-and-white, easy question to answer!

    1. They know, Ed. I just got an e-mail from Alec Peters asking me to cross-post this blog on the Axanar website, as well. (Yes, folks, sometimes I write things BEFORE telling Alec about them!) 🙂

  8. I run the New Voyages YouTube channel where we have released a large number of Star Trek videos and I have seen this kind of thing, before. In fact it has happened to New Voyages episodes as well.

    First of all, there are automated systems that scan all videos for known songs and then automatically send out these copyright notices. We have seen those a lot and then post our reply stating we are allowed to use it. In most cases, this resolves the issues and with the few that don’t, we have to live with the adverts being shown over our episodes.

    We have also had one episode taken down by the CBS lawyer in New York. We appealed that and after a while, the case was dropped and our episode was back online.

    We have also released the English dubbed version of “Crossroads” on our channel and have also received a “Visual content Manually detected” claim for that on our channel as well.

    The point I am trying to make is that such claims are actually normal and just means we have to submit a reasonable counter-claim. I suspect this was simple a mistake by them and is rectified when a counter-claim is made. I do not see it as any kind of new attack on fan-films, just daily business.

    I know Jürgen personally and will ask him about this.

        1. Yeah, that’s why he put me in contact with Stephan Mittelstrass, the co-writer of “The Beginning of the End” (since Stephan lived in the U.K. for two years). But I’m definitely curious to hear what Jürgen has to say. So thanks in advance if you hear back from him.

          1. Here is the reply I received from Jürgen, which I have of course translated from the original German:

            “I read the news on this topic about YouTube and CBS in English in the blog http://fff.trekbloggers.com.

            I also see it as you wrote in the comments, that it is not a new attack on the part of CBS! (I only wanted to inform our fans about the problems and blockages that have to be fought.)

            I find it unfortunate that the accusing party has so much power in YouTube, where videos can be blocked with statements and without evidence. What happened to the principle that the defendant be given the benefit of the doubt?

            I was just surprised that videos were banned which have been online for almost 10 years on the channel. However, even the new film was held for 24 hours in the testing, lock-mode as a Chinese company had questioned the rights to the credits.
            I would not have thought that the whole thing would make such big waves as I assumed that we are not so well known.

            But the whole thing did have a positive side to it – Free advertising for our film. 😉
            I do not see the issue so seriously as for me, Star Trek fan-films have now died due to the new fan-film guidelines.”

          2. Cool. Thanks for that, Peter. Seeing the free publicity side of things is a good “glass is half full” perspective.As for the culprit, I guess we still don’t know for sure. It could have just been an automated YouTube it of software…or it could be CBS itself. I suppose a public statement from CBS saying, “It wasn’t us, and we meant what we said about not pulling down previously-released fan films…” would be asking for too much, huh?

  9. I do hope that everyone knows that this was flagged by YouTube’s automated software and NOT a claim filed by CBS.

    YouTube flags hundreds, if not thousands of items of content daily. Once said content owner files a protest it almost always gets restored in quick order , unless it was pulled by the IP owner.

    All of these conspiracy theories being expressed here is pure and utter Bull Shit on the part of Axanar supporters.

  10. Conspiracy theories,,,, ha!! This is one of the biggest reason that I am so dissaponted in both CBS and Star Trek fans. Johnathan has an obligation to report. And he did a thorough job. CBS should have issued a press release, or returned comment.. Considering fan films are a bit of a sticky wicket at the moment. My big concern is the fallout from attacks like this one perpetrated by CBS, and the negative impact on the fan base .

  11. I can now confirm that the CBS copyright claim on YouTube against the German Enterprise Fan-Film has been dropped. This applies to all versions hosted by Jürgen Kaiser and the English language version of Crossroads hosted by New Voyages.

        1. Thanks, David. I kinda wish the article dealt more with the procedure for copyright violations rather than just questionable content. But I suppose YouTube doesn’t want to explain it too well lest they give copyright offenders a road map on how to get around their detectors.

      1. All I know is that it was originally flagged with the comment that CBS CID had manually flagged it and once I had responded to it, it was released very quickly – much faster than normal – with the following comment:
        Good news! After reviewing your dispute, CBS CID has decided to release their copyright claim on your YouTube video. Video title: “Star Trek: Enterprise – Crossroads (Fan-Film) – Subtitles”

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