An interview with AXANAR attorney ERIN RANAHAN

Right after the settlement in the AXANAR lawsuit was announced, rumors were flying that the reason for this unexpected development was because the Court had lifted the confidentiality designation on Alec Peters’ financials.  According to some detractors (well, most of them), Alec suddenly panicked that the jig was up and hastily rushed to settle so as not to let those financials become public.

You know me and rumors, right?

So I e-mailed Axanar lead defense attorney, Erin Ranahan, to see if these rumors were true or not.  And she gave me a surprising answer.  And then I asked her a few other quick questions, and she answered those, too.  “Geez, if only I could get an official interview with you!” I e-mailed back to her.

A few seconds later, she responded: “Send me a list of questions and I’ll let you know which I can answer.”

Whoa!  Did Erin just agree to do an interview with Fan Film Factor???  I didn’t even know that lawyers in big cases like these were allowed to give full interviews.  Usually, all I see are quick sound bytes that don’t really say much.

And so I put together a list of questions, and Erin actually answered most of them.  The couple that she didn’t dealt with items like the specific terms of the settlement, which are confidential.

So, is that rumor about Alec’s financials true?  Read on…

Before I begin the interview, let me say a few words both personally and professionally about Erin.  Although she was a real pit bull in her e-mails back and forth with the plaintiffs’ attorneys at Loeb & Loeb (some of those exchanges were included with filings made with the Court while the lawsuit was still going on), Erin was always warm and very helpful to me.  Much more often than not, despite a ridiculously busy schedule, she would respond very quickly to my e-mails asking clarifying questions about this or that filing.  (No, she wasn’t an official legal eagle, but she was sure an honorary one!)

On a professional level, I’d like to share with you a bit of her legal background.  You can read her entire info page on the Winston & Strawn website.  Erin Ranahan received a B.A. in Anthropology and Communications, with high honors, from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2000.  She received a J.D. in 2004 from the University of California at Los Angeles, where she was a staff member of the International Law Journal. (As a side note, my wife Wendy also got her J.D. from UCLA Law back in 1998.)

Erin is now a partner in the firm’s Los Angeles and San Francisco offices, where she focuses on copyright, new media, entertainment, trademark, right of publicity, and false advertising litigation.  She has litigated complex commercial disputes in the entertainment industry, including contract disputes involving movie producers, distribution companies, and individuals.  She has handled several high-profile intellectual property matters, including litigating matters concerning copyright infringement and the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). She has extensive experience litigating jurisdictional actions arising from California’s anti-SLAPP statute.

There’s lots more information about the cases she’s handled and the speaking engagements she’s had that you’re welcome to read on the W&S website.  But suffice it to say, Alec Peters didn’t just get assigned some wet-behind-the-ears second-year associate.  Erin Ranahan is the real thing and a top-level intellectual property litigation specialist.

And here’s what she had to say…

JONATHAN: Erin, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview.  This case was obviously very controversial and polarized a portion of Star Trek fandom.  As such, you had literally thousands of Trekkies (including me) cheering you on, day after day, and at the same time a bunch of detractors saying some pretty nasty things about you and your law firm.  How did it feel to have all of this attention focused your way as you wrote and filed literally thousands of pages of legal documentation?

ERIN: As lawyers, at most, we typically expect the judge, their clerks, the opposing side, and the client to read our papers, but that’s it.  Sometimes I will get my husband to read something to give me his thoughts (he’s a litigator too).  I’d say in this case, it was actually quite flattering to have so many eyes reading the briefs we worked so hard on, whether they cheered us on or attempted to rip us apart or simply set forth our arguments, including everyone from the reporters from the Hollywood Reporter, Bloomberg and Law360, law students, legal commentators, professors, and bloggers from all over the place.   I don’t take any “nasty” things people say about me personally, as we are simply lawyers doing the best job we can to provide pro bono representation to our clients who otherwise would have been in a very tough position trying to defend themselves in this lawsuit against two giant studios.

JONATHAN: What was it that initially convinced W&S to take on such a significant lawsuit pro bono in the first place?  One would think that, with two deep-pocketed Hollywood studios involved, that this case would likely require quite a heavy load of resources and not be a small commitment on your firm’s part.  So why take on such a major case for free?

ERIN: Our firm has taken on many significant pro bono cases that require a heavy work load in all sorts of arenas, including taking the Games Workshop copyright case all the way through trial.  Every attorney at our firm, whether a partner or associate, is expected to devote a minimum number of hours per years, and most attorneys far exceed that requirement.  Every attorney in our LA office met or exceeded their minimum requirement for 2016.

As far as pro bono cases I have worked on at Winston & Strawn, I have worked on Section 1983 prisoner cases, criminal appeals, a case where we fought to allow an autistic boy to bring his service dog to school, an asylum case, and a trademark case in Colorado, including many others.

When we first took this case, we actually believed there was a chance it could settle relatively quickly.  But if it didn’t, it presented a great opportunity to work on a high profile and interesting case that presented many fascinating and complex copyright issues, while giving great experience to the many attorneys at our firm who pitched in.  We also felt that, without our assistance, Axanar and Mr. Peters were at serious risk of being shut down, and we did not want to see that when they had put out such an impressive short, Prelude to Axanar, and had lots of donors who were counting on them to create more.

JONATHAN: Alec Peters has, of course, had incredibly flattering things to say about you and your law firm.  And he’s reported that multiple W&S lawyers have lent their services to this pro bono case over the past twelve months…even some of the top partners!  All in all, how many attorneys at your firm have contributed hours to this case?  And why were they so eager to do so?  (Are there just a lot of Trekkies at W&S?)

ERIN: There are Trekkie-lawyers at our firm who did indeed come out of the woodwork to assist on this case when they heard we had agreed to take this case on.  All in all, we had sixteen different attorneys pitch in on various levels, including four partners and twelve associates.  And that does not even include all of the paralegals and support staff that pitched in, including my amazing assistant, who stayed very late with me to file things on multiple occasions.  The case was actually a blast to litigate in many respects—it can be a nice break for attorneys to write legal briefs about pointed Vulcan ears, the Klingon language, and fair use.  It is also gratifying to have the support of Alec Peters and those Axanar fans that routinely expressed their appreciation towards us.

JONATHAN: I read a number of those e-mail interchanges between you and the plaintiffs’ attorneys at Loeb& Loeb.  The high level of passive-aggressive confrontation (and sometimes not so passive!) seemed almost constant…and I can only imagine how emotionally draining it must have been, particularly for you as point-person.  As the case dragged on and the plaintiffs fought back tooth and nail for every inch, did you ever feel like pushing Alec Peters to just settle already and getting this albatross off from around your neck?

ERIN: What you see in snippets of emails and in pieces of deposition transcripts does not reflect the relationship we had with opposing counsel most of the time over the last year.  You are simply seeing the most heated moments, and as a litigator, you cannot take those personally or get too emotional about them.  But most of the time those exchanges energized me as opposed to draining me.

I actually had a great relationship with Jonathan Zavin, and we had many lengthy and respectful conversations about all aspects of the case throughout the case. I have nothing but respect for him.

I would never pressure a client to settle unless it was in the client’s best interest, and that is the same whether it is a pro bono or a paying client.  Opposing counsel are doing their job as we are doing ours, and unfortunately that leads people to become annoying at times to serve the best interests of the client, myself included.  As much as I was also salivating over the potential of taking the fair use decision up to the Ninth Circuit, I could not pressure my client to take on that appeal when it presented risks and a delay that would take years to get through.  And of course, any Ninth Circuit appeal on fair use would have required us to lose trial, which we did not plan to do either.

JONATHAN: In the end, of course, the two sides did settle.  Some detractors have said that the judge’s order (two days before the settlement was announced) removing the redactions from certain key pieces of evidence involving Alec Peters’ financials resulted in a rush to settlement on your side…with you personally signing the Joint Stipulation of Voluntary Dismissal the day after the ruling.  Is that what happened?

ERIN: That is not accurate.  The Court had found the very same financials to be confidential and sealed them on multiple occasions (despite Plaintiffs repeated efforts to make those public).  Here, upon receiving the Order you are referring to, we called the Clerk and realized that the Court did not notice that we had filed the requisite declarations to seal those documents.  So it was simply a clerical oversight, and if the case had not settled the same week, it would have been corrected.  Also, both sides had been in settlement discussions throughout the case.  The impetus was that trial was in less than two weeks; it had nothing to do with that mistaken Order.  The notion that we could have finalized a settlement in just two days is also simply not realistic.

JONATHAN: So just to be clear, Alec Peters’ financials were NOT going to be made public?

ERIN: That is correct.  They would have remained sealed.

JONATHAN: So if it wasn’t a sudden “panic attack” about Alec Peters’ financials being revealed to the public, then what did lead to the two parties settling after a year of impasse?  Some (including myself) have hypothesized that Judge Klausner’s summary judgement the first week of January invalidating the “fair use” defense at trial was a game changer for both parties.  Is that true?  If so, who blinked first?

ERIN:  We were working to finalize the settlement for a long time, and it was in the best interests of both sides to do so before trial.
Keep in mind that besides fair use, summary judgment did not go as Plaintiffs wanted. They still had not proven liability or willfulness, questions which the court found had to go to a jury, and the Court also declined to impose injunctive relief.

Of course, having our fair use defense taken away before trial was disappointing, and legally I am confident that the decision would not have stood up under scrutiny by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  The question should have at least created factual questions that would get to a jury, as cases with far more subtle forms of commentary than what Prelude to Axanar had here have been declared fair use (check out the Green Day and Cairou cases).

The Court here said that it had “difficulty” seeing the commentary, but if a reasonable observer could disagree, it is supposed to go to a jury.  And there were at least factual issues on both transformativeness and the impact on the market factors here, but the Court ignored those.  If the Court was judging the “Pretty Woman” case before it reached the Supreme Court here, under its reasoning, it may not have seen that commentary worthy either.  Justice Holmes of the Supreme Court famously wrote in the 1903 case that it would be “a dangerous undertaking for persons trained only to the law” to “constitute themselves final judges” of artistic merit.

JONATHAN: So when all is said and done, how do you personally feel about this settlement?  Does one side come out more ahead than the other?  And would you have preferred to actually go to trial after putting in SO much work for twelve grueling months?

ERIN: Every settlement can be characterized as a win for both sides, and a loss for both sides.  This case is no different.  No one ever gets everything they want from settlement, and it’s rare that anyone gets everything they want from trial, especially given that even a trial victory typically only leads to years of appellate practice.

I personally feel that this settlement was the best option for both sides, and that both sides got things in settlement that they could not have achieved through trial.  As far as preference of going to trial, though trial in this case would have been fun and a great experience, it is never our preference to go to trial when our client has a way to resolve this case through an acceptable settlement that would bring peace and finality much sooner.

JONATHAN: What do you think the future holds for fan films–both Star Trek and other genres?  Did this case make fan films more secure or more vulnerable to new legal challenges from big studios?

ERIN: Fan films will continue to flourish like they always have in the Star Trek community—just those that are not parodies, satire, or other clearly protected speech will have to run a little shorter, which forces a new level of editing and creativity.  The studios went a long time without suing anyone, and I would expect that, given the experience in this case, they won’t be running out to sue fan film creators any time soon.  Fan films for the most part offer free promotion and enhance the brand, not harm it, so business considerations would make an onslaught of lawsuits like this highly unlikely.

As far as any “precedent” regarding fair use, fair use is an incredibly fact specific inquiry.  The Court’s ruling in this case foreclosing fair use before trial is problematic from our perspective in multiple respects, but is binding on no one (not even another district court in the Central District).

JONATHAN: Once again, Erin, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview.  And thank you, as well, on behalf of myself and so many fans who have been watching this case so closely this past year.  It’s obvious to all of us that you and your law firm brought not only your A-game but an inspiring amount of dedication and loyalty in representing your client.  I realize that’s what attorneys are supposed to do, but I also know that isn’t always the case.  This time it was, though…by orders of magnitude.

So thank you, Erin and everyone at Winston & Strawn, for standing up for the little guy in a BIG way.  May you live long and legally prosper!

57 thoughts on “An interview with AXANAR attorney ERIN RANAHAN”

  1. …she had my eyes glazing, but Erin is a class act =)

    …and thanks for confirming what we’ve all known:
    the haters are full of [sh]it =(

    …i don’t think they’ll be able to let go yet – they’ll cling to the sheerest thread of a lie; hate overcoming shame, decency, honor… =(

    …they’ll probably STILL try to throw Alec/Axanar under the bus =(

    1. Warning on the language there. The [brackets] help a little, but please try to respect the swearing rule. I know I sound like a network TV censor, but I really feel that the lack of the potty language can help elevate the level of discourse we all share.

      1. “It was far easier for you as civilized man to act as barbarians, than for them as barbarians to act like civilized men.”

        Absolutely agree on the need for civility.

  2. Behold! The conspiracies theorists will now spin new protective layers of self-reinforcing circumlocution faster than Borg regenerative shielding on a tactical cube.

  3. Still not at all a fan of CBS, but Erin did the best job she could it seems like – So, kudos to her on that… P 🙂

  4. So can we expect an interview with Jonathan Zavin and/or someone from CBS/Paramount too, or did they already dinied a request or given one elsewhere?
    After a year of hard fought legal battle I cosinder an offer to share their view of the case similar to Erin and Alec on this site an olive branch. Although I think it would be a long shot to actually get one, I belive it would be worth it and if it’s only a gesture of good will.

    1. I never developed a rapport with the Loeb & Loeb attorneys like I did with Erin. Also, considering that I’ve been so supportive of Axanar all along, I suspect the L&L attorneys would want to avoid speaking with me on the record, lest they run afoul of their clients at CBS and Paramount. In fact, they’d probably be more likely to want to appear in, and they would probably feel it was a more sympathetic space for them.

      1. I doubt CBS would agree to any kind of an interview – Too arrogant and prideful – The jerks… :/

        1. Probably nothing to lose. I might do so.

          I also suspect I would get a lot of the same kinds of answers–both sides won a little and lost a little; our client is satisfied that Alec Peters will now be following the fan film guidelines instead of trying to make a major 90-minute production using CBS’s intellectual property; we will be watching him closely to ensure the settlement terms are complied with; etc. I doubt there will be any bombshells, as that would only serve to NOT make this case go away…and the studios really want the lawsuit to be far back in the rearview mirror universe asap.

  5. I see you failed to ask Erin the big question!!! “Who do you want to play you in The Legal Battle for Axanar?” Okay, I shall turn sarcasm mode off now.

    I hope that the settlement agreement got some money to them from the plaintiffs.

  6. Jonathan, that pic of Erin makes her look perky, in a good way, of course. I just hope that her husband keeps her tenacity in mind. I don’t he’d want to be on her bad side in a divorce case, which given he is also a litigator, I would assume he’d be aware of. Hopefully with the case settled, you’ll get a chance to relax. Not that’s easy with Jayden around. Maybe give Erin and her husband advice on raising a kid in a marriage of professionals. ;>)

    1. One of the decisions Wendy and I had to make early on was whether I would return to the work world after we brought Jayden home. I was still doing freelance User Experience Design in 2010 when Jayden was born. But 3 months later, I was offered a very nice full-time office job about 25 minutes away. Wendy and I had been in the adoption process for three and a half years, and it was an emotional roller coaster. We had had one birth mother string us along for nearly five months before changing her mind at pretty much the last moment. That felt like having a miscarriage–only one where you’d paid thousands of dollars to cover the woman’s expenses (medical, rent, food, clothing, car maintenance, etc.)…and NONE of that comes back. And then you’re back at square one looking for a new birth mother.

      So after a lengthy adoption process (most times it doesn’t take three years), Jayden finally came into our lives…six weeks early (which required extra expenses to hire an attorney and adoption agency in Louisiana–which is required by their state law–simply because the birth mother went into labor days before she was supposed to board a plane to California). Then we had to spend 10 days in a Holiday Inn Express with a premie newborn waiting for paperwork to clear the offices of two different states attorneys general before be could fly Jayden across state lines and take him home.

      And we suddenly had this amazing bay boy who was filling our lives and hearts with love. Despite the total lack of sleep, those first three months were incredible and magical (looking back now, of course). But then I was offered a job that would have required us to either hire a nanny or put Jayden into daycare. This incredible child into whom we had invested so much of ourselves–emotionally, financially, physically–would now be raised by strangers. Wendy and I would get home in the early evening, compete for a few precious hours with him each night and on weekends, and then go back to work.

      And all for what? After taxes and the cost of either a nanny or daycare, we’d clear maybe $20,000 a year more than we’d make were I to remain unemployed and be a stay-at-home dad (no need for nanny or even a babysitter). And I realize that many, many families don’t have the luxury to even have that choice to make in the first place. But we did. And Wendy and I decided that she would continue to work (since her salary was more than double what mine would have been), and my job would be raising Jayden.

      And it’s a job I took VERY seriously. Jayden and I went everywhere–museums, observatories, aquariums, nature hikes, music classes, gymnastics classes, playgrounds, the beach, the zoo, the library, downtown, to wildflower fields, farms, the mountains, you name it! In fact, when Jayden was three-years-old and Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” was the big thing, I made this video of some of our exploits:

      I’m still the stay-at-home dad…getting up at 6:30, getting Jayden dressed; making him breakfast and lunch; driving him to school; driving him to karate, gymnastics, and soccer; getting him reading at a 2nd grade level (why not?); setting up and taking him on play dates with his friends; and we still do many of our “adventures” like bike riding, movies, bowling, watching Star Trek…and yes, we still go to many of those places that were in the video. In the evenings, I’m the one in charge of homework (what little there is of it), making him dinner, and getting him ready for bed for Mommy to tuck him in.

      I’m not sure why I just shared all that with you. It’s probably because last night, Gabe Koerner sent me this angry IM via Facebook:

      This is about people who lost their jobs, you person that is so babied and diapered and pampered to the point you even physically resemble one that working for your survival isn’t your “reality”.

      Gabe occasionally gets into angry rants where he rags on my seemingly easy life and the fact that I have no “job.” I try not to let it bother me, but sometimes, despite even my own best efforts, it still does bother me. I take my job as Jayden’s father VERY seriously. And yes, Wendy wishes she could spend as much time with our son as I do. And she’d love it if I could find a way to make a little more $$$ from home than the dollar or two a day I get from Google Ads. But that’s easier said than done. I’m adding an online shop to FFF in a couple of weeks, but even that’s only gonna be a dollar per shirt in “profit.” And trying to get a gig as a freelance online blogger is a VERY competitive field at the moment. So yeah, I really WISH Axanar could pay me–’cause I would so take that job! 🙂

      Anyway, all of this is to say that I wouldn’t presume to advise Erin and her husband what to do about children. Everyone’s situation is different, and so are everyone’s priorities. All I can speak to is the decision that Wendy and I made, and the incredible way Jayden is turning out so far. Next week, you’ll be able to hear for yourself, as Jayden was just interviewed as a guest on his first-ever Star Trek podcast. I spoke for an hour, and Jayden had a 15 minute segment. And his 15 minutes are SOOOOO much better than my sixty! 🙂

      Okay, thanks for letting me ramble on. That IM last night from Gabe is still really bothering me…

      1. My uncle and aunt adopted two children back in the 60s and 70s and I think it’s great you and your wife were able to give a child a home full of love.

        1. In all fairness, I did unfriend him several months ago. But then he kept IMing me. I don’t like to disappoint people. I once tried to break up with a girl (this was back in 2002), and she just wouldn’t accept it. That was one of the hardest months of my life! 🙂

      2. “You have a kid and no job? You are a loser and a failure and a leech on society.”
        – says the people who have never raised a kid and/or are probably jealous of the 1 income family still remaining successfully financially afloat. They might even be jealous because their father was not around or was a piece of garbage so they have to project their sadness onto others.

        As an unemployed, partially disabled, stay-at-home husband and father I have had similar hatred directed toward me. I pity those people and hope they find a way to be happy some day.

        It looks like you are doing a fine job being a great father and keeping up with some sort of professionally related work. Keep on keepin on.

          1. “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
            – Yoda

        1. I was a mostly stay at home dad. My father in law ragged on me about not being a man and taking care of my wife. Taking care of kids wasn’t a job to him. One thing I regret is not putting more effort into my writing. While he slowly began to change his tune when my wife was able to put a couple of books in his hand that had my name on the cover, I don’t think he ever accepted my part of the marriage. I do wish I had put even more effort into my writing, so that today I could make a living off of it. Now she works with me in the family business, which I took over from my dad. I’m certain my dad thought a lot of the same way that her dad did, but my dad kept his mouth shut. I went back to school and got two bachelor and a master’s degree. Now I’m the breadwinner and she helps, and we’re sending her back to school. It helps that the kids are 15 and 17. We moved to Florida weeks after my son was born, and I couldn’t find a job that would do more than pay for day care, so what was the point? You gotta do what you gotta do to take care of the kids.

          1. Nice to hear a familiar story, Scott. 🙂

            (My father-in-law doesn’t rag on me, but I don’t think he’s thrilled either. He worked VERY hard all of his life to provide for his family. Both of Wendy’s parents worked, in fact. But times change.)

  7. If Axanar is so transparent then why fight so very hard to keep the finances secret? It seems that in the deposition it was noted that Alec spent money on tires, cell phones, heath insurance, etc.; is that not true? If it is not true how is that information in the deposition?

    1. Geez, do I really have to explain this for the TENTH time???

      Alec spent his OWN money on this things. However, in the first version of the financials that were sent to the plaintiffs, all expenses were grouped together, since Alec paid for everything from the same bank account. When the finances were actually organized by a proper accountant, those expenses were now properly counted as reimbursements against moneys Alec put in from his private funds (about $150,000 total).

      Obviously, the plaintiffs wanted to leave the “reimbursed” part out and include every last personal expense to make it look like Alec Peters was embezzling. And it worked, as many simple-minded people fell for their ploy. As for keeping the finances confidential, when one side is arguing falsehoods based on an incorrect interpretation of the facts, what’s to stop others from dong the same? I would have asked for the finances to be kept confidential, too…at least until after the trial.

      That said, the finances are going to be released. And when they are, I have permission to publish them here.

      1. Yes, for me it has to be explained until it makes sense. I run a business and understand accounting intimately and this quite simply does not make any sense what-so-ever.

        I am looking forward to seeing your release of the finances so that the numbers will hopefully make more sense then the convoluted stories that keep being peddled about. Once we see where every penny of the fundraising went including Kickstarter, Indigogo, donor store money, donations from conventions and also all of the additional money Alec invested into the project then that will tell the story. It’s the only way to have a full accounting of where the money went. If all of that information is not release then something fishy is going on.

        1. “If all of that information is not release then something fishy is going on.”

          Keeping in mind that the financial summary and committee review report WILL be released (hopefully really soon–ya hear me, Peters???), I don’t follow the logic of the above statement. Even if Alec were never to release any financials, that doesn’t prove anything…at least not in this country. We assume innocence until guilt is proven. And just because someone doesn’t willingly provide proof or testimony of their guilt doesn’t mean they are guilty.

          That said, I expect to have the financials here soon. And then I expect a whole bunch of people to say they were just made up, entirely inaccurate, incomplete, or still somehow hiding the “real” truth. In other words, some people will never be satisfied no matter what Alec Peters does.

          1. My dad used to run his business out of the same checking account that he used for his personal expenses, because he didn’t want to be bothered with keeping separate accounts. Sometimes he would even pay multiple bills (his home electric bill and the separate bills of business properties) with the same check, to save checks. I could not get him to understand how monumentally stupid an idea that was, because in an audit it would be difficult to separate nondeductible personal expenses from genuine business ones. When I took over the business, I opened multiple bank accounts, to avoid even the appearance of comingling. In this case, Alec used his personal money to pay some business things because there wasn’t any business money to pay it, and then rightfully sought to be reimbursed. It only looks bad to those who don’t understand it, and now that there is some business money, he didn’t have to do it any more. Asking to get reimbursed for money loaned to the business for legitimate purposes is not out of line. In the beginning, stuff needed to be paid for in order to keep the dream alive before donations came in. I’m certain that, if I went over every line of every account, I might find a few things I would question, but then, I have three business degrees including an MBA. However, I think I’m gonna give him the benefit of the doubt. I have no doubt that some money has been diverted from its originally intended purpose, because things change. Sure as hell, a lawsuit delaying production more than a year wasn’t planned, so of course the money isn’t going to add up exactly as promised when it was donated. I also have a degree in project management, and I think the adjustments that have had to have been made to this project are not out of line. Seriously, when he was first raising funds, would it have been realistic to expect a delay because of a lawsuit? Anyone who says that was a reasonable expectation at the time fundraising began is a liar. Yeah, putting so much emphasis on a fan film being a professional endeavor was a bit of hubris on Alec’s part, but as I am not without sin, I’m gonna leave those stones piled on the side of the road.

  8. Um, what we were saying (as was the Judge) was that Axanar’s Financials COULD (and WOULD) have been used as evidence in the Trial – and once introduced into evidence – Alec would have been questioned on them and all that would have become part of the Public Record. (I personally never said the Judge would change the fact they were filed as Confidential – the Judge specifically ruled the Financials were germane to the case – and COULD be used in Trial – BOTH sets.) Ms. Ranahan also leaves outthe fact it was the Defense that ASKED the Judge to rule on the admissibility of their ‘fair use’ defense; and he did so applying the 4 tests properly. If Ms. Ranahan feels that decision would have been overturned on appeal – she’s as deluded as Alec Peters was thinking he could be found not liable for copyright infringement had they gone to trial. Why? Because the Judge did apply the tests for Fair Use correctly.

    W&S got into the case because they figured they could get a favorable settlement. If you go by how Alec Peters was saying he wouldn’t settle until they allowed him to make Axanar in the manner stated to the donors (read 90 minute, Feature length); and what he ultimately accepted (Read: Per the C/P Fan Film Guidelines with the exception he could use the Actors that appeared in Prelude to Axanar) – yeah, Alec caved all right.

    I also don’t think Winston & Strawn felt the settlement was all that great – because they never mentioned it on their Twitter (where they have in the past mentioned ‘wins’ – nor does their Twitter mention Erin Ranahan – although it does most of their other outstanding Partners.) Too bad you also didn’t mention the one tweet regarding the Axanar V. CBS lawsuit that was taken down less then 24 hours after it was posted most likely due to responses that were not supportive.

    But hey, keep the spin going Jonathan. I wonder what people will say in another two years when Alec Peters probably will still be asking for private donations to Axanar while still not completing/releasing the 2 part 30 minute Axanar ‘fan film.’ I’m sure at that point you’ll still be singing the same tune.

      1. Ms. Ranahan’s biggest job is to protect her client. Having said that you have to admit Jonathan keeping the financials a secret refusing to show the full financials to even donors raises questions. And if the best way to shut up the detractors as you love to label people is to show them why not?

        1. Well, that’s kinda why Alec is releasing them (tick-tock, dude!). It’s not to prove that he did nothing wrong but rather to reassure the donors, many of whom have been shaken by the leaked and inaccurate accusations of the plaintiffs. Notice I didn’t say “ridiculously false”…so I’ll say it now: ridiculously false. 🙂

          So why didn’t Alec just release his full financials months ago for the public to examine for themselves, instead of keeping them filed under a confidentiality order? Well, as I said elsewhere, the first version of the financials was not ready for prime time…not because Alec was cooking the books but rather because they hadn’t even been put into the oven yet! (And anyone who tries to make a “half-baked” joke…I’ve just beaten you to it!)

          Alec made a mistake (which he admitted to) by not getting an accountant earlier on. And despite having owned other businesses, Alec’s previous companies were sole proprietorships where he paid for everything from his own personal bank account. In my opinion, it was a mistake with Axanar not to get a unique business account for Axanar Productions separate from his own. But this is not me calling Alec stupid or guilty or nefariously clever (the first and last ones are kinda opposites). It was simply a mistake made by someone who had never crowd-funded his own project before. Many fan productions were just learning themselves (some still are), and I’m pretty sure Alec wasn’t the only one not to bother setting up an individual bank account for production-related expenses. He should have, and I am told that is going to be remedied on a go-forward basis…but I’ll wait for Mike Bawden and/or Alec himself to make that particular announcement when they’re ready.

          Now, just because Alec didn’t set up a separate bank account, this does not mean that Alec embezzled any funds. It just means that, based solely on receipts and monies paid out to vendors, merchants, landlords, freelancers, laborers, professionals, manufacturers, shippers, electricians, etc…as well as car mechanics, health insurance providers, airlines, hotels, and sushi restaurants…it was impossible to know which bills were being paid by Axanar donors and which by Alec Peters from his own personal funds. It’s not that Alec was skimming off the top. Just the opposite, in fact. He was topping off the tank from his own personal funds.

          For example, at one point early on (pre-Prelude release), the project simply ran out of money. Prelude went over budget, and the $638K Kickstarter hadn’t happened yet. But the donor money was now gone, and bills still had to be paid. So Alec continued paying them. After all, there was still money in the bank account; it was just Alec’s money, not the donors’. Until the $638K (minus commissions and fees) was released by Kickstarter in the early autumn, all Axanar expenses were paid by Alec Peters…including renting that theater in San Diego to show the premiere of Prelude during Comic Con weekend, plus other convention trips to conventions like Dragon*Con. So “embezzling” is NOT a word I would use since Alec was now SPENDING HIS OWN money on this venture.

          At the time the defense needed to provide the financials to the plaintiffs at the beginning of the discovery period, it was all but impossible to figure out where donor funding ended and Alec’s personal funding began. By that point, it wasn’t just the $100K for Prelude but more than a million dollars of additional donations plus another hundred thousand of Alec’s personal investments. And it was all mixed together in one set of Quicken books. Yes, Alec Peters kept every receipt. Unfortunately, he’d never bothered sorting out the “his” and “theirs” of the payments. As I said, definitely a mistake. But not a nefarious one. And to be honest, when it came time to actually do the sorting of receipts (especially with an eye toward preparing for tax season, as well), Alec was in over his head. As a Trekkie, he’s an uber-geek. As a social media crowd-funding cheer-leader, the guy is awesome. As an accountant, well, not so much. (Hey, even Kirk wasn’t a very good driver…at least not in “A Piece of the Action.” Kelvin-verse Kirk is another matter entirely!)

          Okay, back to Alec. Eventually, it was all sorted out more cleanly, but that took months and the hiring of a very good (I’m told) accountant to backtrack all the purchases and payments (there’s hundreds and hundreds…probably thousands of individual payments; I’m seen them–they go on and on for dozens of pages in spreadsheet format). But finally, in what I think was last November, there was finally a properly-prepared document that said, “Okay, donors put in this much and Alec put in this much.”

          Unfortunately, the delay in producing that properly-sorted financial document resulted in a couple of months of the plaintiffs having the unsorted pile of Quicken receipts and a whole bunch of “gotchas” of Alec spending “donor money” (not yet sorted from personal funds) on such personal expenses as meals, plane tickets, health insurance, and even tires for his car. Oh, the plaintiffs were ecstatic! This was like getting Al Capone on tax evasion! Sure, the FBI couldn’t bring Capone down on racketeering or bootlegging or murder, but tax evasion is still a conviction, right? Well, whether or not Loeb & Loeb got Alec on infringement, embezzling sure seemed like a great way to taint the judge and jury against Alec Peters. Loeb & Loeb probably couldn’t believe their luck…and they probably cursed out loud when they finally got the properly sorted books and discovered that, with that same $1.4 million all accounted for, the donor money had actually been spent properly. And not only had Alec Peters NOT lined his own pockets, but he was actually in the hole by about $150,000. As I said–it’s the opposite of embezzling…either that, or it’s the stupidest embezzling scheme EVER! The idea of having your hand in the cookie jar is to TAKE OUT cookies…not to put more of them in!!!

          And that’s why the plaintiffs tried so hard to get the second set of financials thrown out as evidence (and failed). They needed to taint Alec Peters, and that second set of books would either negate that or, at best, simply confuse the jury. In the meantime, Alec’s attorneys just wanted the detailed financials kept completely confidential and away from the jury, which–according to Erin Ranahan–they actually did get after all. The only thing the jury would have gotten to see was that X amount was raised and Y amount was spent. Nothing about how it was spent would be included in anything presented to the jury…thereby eliminating the possibility of any tainting or even chance of tainting by the plaintiff of the defendant based on unsubstantiated accusations.

          And that’s why Alec Peters wasn’t going to release any of his financials while the trial was still going on–since that would open the door to the judge lifting the confidentiality designation and now admitting the financials into evidence and allowing for that tainting by accusation. But now that the lawsuit is settled, the financials are coming out sooner than expected.

          Now, will you be seeing every single micro-transition and a seemingly endless parade of spreadsheet pages the same as I did? Probably not. That’s WAY too much detail, and to be honest, some of those payments are, themselves, confidential. For example, I know Tobias Richter gave Axanar a fantastic rate on his CGI work. But does he want that to become public knowledge? Of course not! Then everyone will want that rate!!! And then some of the stuff is just ridiculously mundane. For example, a run to the local supermarket to restock the toilet paper in the bathroom…really? You need to see THAT??? How about they just summarize the total amount spent on supplies? If it’s $325,000…then you can cry foul, okay? 🙂

          As for the financial review, these are the folks who are going to look at that total for supplies and say, “Does toilet paper really cost THAT much?” They’re going through the minutiae. They get to see what Tobias was getting paid. But not the general public. You want to see every single check written? Sorry, but no other fan film is held to that standard. In fact, I don’t recall seeing financials from any other fan production other than Star Trek Continues, and even their summaries were pretty general. Vic Mignogna did NOT disclose how much THEY spent on toiler paper! As for other fan projects like Renegades (which has now raised nearly a million dollars total over four years), we’ve never seen ANY financials from them…not toilet paper, not prop or set construction costs, not even how much total (or even individually) their cast and crew gets paid.

          Now, I know when people see the Axanar financials, some will still have all sorts of problems with them. Just know that one of my repeated go-to responses will be that ol’ double-standard and asking why you’re not demanding the same of STC or Renegades or any other fan production.

          Okay, I’ve rambled on long enough. There’s only so many times you can type in the words “toilet paper” and not start to screw up your blog’s Google search engine results! 🙂

  9. I to don’t like both paramount and cbs studio to try to stop my project then it is for everyone to see and enjoy. Of seeing a real star ship to be built. They can’t stop me for doing this when they have drop us star trek fans like a rock for what money and steal the one person who had this idea back in the 1965?, befor it came out on to tv in the 1966 of enterprise ncc 1701, witch the us. Navy gave the use for useing that name as part of history?.. I want people to know that my project is for everyone to see and enjoy.

  10. Interesting interview you were able to conduct Jonathan! Thank you for sharing. To me, Alec Peters won in many respects. He can still make Axanar, the studio he and the team built is still there, and there are so many possibilities now for future fan productions, etc. So what is not to like??

    1. Alec won a little and he lost a little. Same with the studios. That’s kinda the idea behind legal settlements. That said, I think there’s some VERY interesting and exciting things coming our way from Axanar Productions. What what do I know, anyway? 😉

  11. Those who show negativity toward Alec Peters make me wonder if they would be prepared to put $150,000 toward such a cause, to put their money where their mouth is. Also, would they be prepared to submit themselves to what must have been a highly stressful 12+ months, with a possibilty of failure? Alec’s committment, financially and personally, is inspiring. Watching afar from Australia I can only be impressed by such devotion; long-term committment is becoming a rare commodity these days – (although not so in the Star Trek fan community!). And, of course, there is similar admiration for the legal team.

    Yes, those of us who can only stand by helplessly [almost imitated S.T.’s famous split infinitive there] and wait to ultimately enjoy [an acceptable s.i.] the fruits of the sweat of others have lost a ninety-minute feature, but I have no doubts that what emerges in its place will at least be equally exciting and satisfying.

    As for Will’s “Fishy” claim; there are some people too thick to ever accept they may be wrong. (By the way Will, “whatsoever” is an unhyphenated word – the standard of English in some responses is appalling).

    I can only express grateful thanks to ALL those who give so much of themselves to expand the Star Trek universe. My thanks also to you, Jonathan, for all your intelligent support and comment.

    1. You are most welcome, Bryan. As for Alec, he’s a complex person, and we don’t always see eye-to-eye on things. But To be sued simultaneously by two major Hollywood studios, knowing their financial resources were all but limitless…just imagine what YOU would do. Oh, sure, maybe you’d shake your fist in the air for a few minutes, try to get some support from your Facebook friends, maybe even contact a reporter or two. But would you have been able to seek out a top IP law firm and convince them to represent you pro bono? And then would you have been able to keep an optimistic attitude for the next TWELVE MONTHS??? And imagine trying to keep that positive hope alive with a bunch of nasties constantly insulting you and your girlfriend, calling you and crook and a liar and a no-talent hack and even a bad dresser, and occasionally stalking you at cons. Now try holding it together for a year!

      Say what you want about Alec Peters, but few if any of us could do what he did. I was sued once; we counter-sued and got a nice settlement. But in those intervening weeks, I was popping TUMS constantly. And my lawsuit was implemented by a relatively small company (the ones who had bought out my brother and me during the dot-com bubble and collapse). They had about $50-100 million in assets. CBS and Paramount are worth BILLIONS! I had maybe four or five weeks of hell and uncertainty. And at worst, if I lost I’d just be precluded from working with a few certain key clients for three years. TWELVE MONTHS with two publicly-traded companies and a potential seven-figure verdict??? Forget the TUMS; I’d need an ambulance!

    1. It’s Van Citters, not Cutters. And while I’d love to chat with my old boss because he’s a really great guy, I also know he’s really busy. And I suspect that, unless JVC is wondering how to best revise the guidelines, I’m not sure he’s gonna be reaching out to yours truly anytime soon. 🙂

      Now…will I reach out to him? Possibly. I’m still trying to figure out the best next steps for Project: SMALL ACCESS. That may or may not include e-mailing John directly. It’s still too soon at this point.

  12. Er….. Jonathan, reading your reply, you seem to be railing against me. I’m confused. I thought my admiration for Alec, in every respect, was quite clear. [As an aside, I think the issue of Alec’s financials is being over-stressed. Even if, after close examination, it was found there was some accidental discrepancy (unlikely), his $150,000 surely would more than compensate. I can understand why the doubters are seizing on this as a fighting platform: but they are doomed to be eating their words, of this I am confident.]

    So Jonathan, have I perhaps mis-read your response to me?

    1. I was actually agreeing with , Bryan! 🙂

      My response was directed more toward those people vilifying and condemning Alec, belittling him, insulting him, etc. Sure, he can rub some people the wrong way–even me sometimes!–but what he did and how he handled a huge lawsuit from two deep-pocketed publicly-traded corporations…the vast majority of those criticizing him could never have survived the pressure, let alone come out on the other side getting as much as Alec got.

  13. Jonathan,

    If a parody fan film producer is currently producing films for online viewing only and for no profit, will they need to adhere to Paramount’s fan film guidelines?
    They violate a couple of the guidelines, including the one concerning advertisements.
    They have been adhering to the standards of fair use for parody set out in the Campbell decision.

    Do you think they should change their approach to fair use change in light of the fan film guidelines? Thanks!

    1. Well, I’m a fan film parody co-producer. 😉

      That said, parody is covered under fair use. CBS and Paramount can try to sue me or someone else for violating the guidelines (I actually didn’t violate any of the guidelines except #2). But if the work is obviously a parody, they won’t get far. That said, the producer would still have to lawyer up, and I’m not sure Winston & Strawn is looking to become the Mother Theresa of fan filmmakers. On the other hand, do the studios really want to sue yet ANOTHER production? It was bad enough press the first time!

      Are you referring to any specific fan parody, or was this a purely hypothetical question?

      1. Purely hypothetical. Recently been studying the fair use doctrine.

        If I follow correctly, the parody fan-filmmaker can violate the guidelines all they want, likely to be sued by Paramount. But they can still succeed on a claim of fair use (assuming they meet all the elements).

        So the guidelines have no bearing on the Fan Film maker’s ability to claim fair use? Just whether or not they want to be brought to court?
        Sorry for all the questions! Just want to be clear on it.

        Thank you!

        1. Well, remember two things:

          1) Parody is subjective. I could say Prelude to Axanar is a parody, but I’d have to prove that to a jury.

          2) As James Kerwin of Star Trek Continues said: the guidelines only say that if you follow the rules, you WON’T get sued. They do NOT say that if you violate the guidelines that you WILL be sued. STC intends to not follow many of the guidelines and release their final four episodes, each over 40 minutes in length with the name “Star Trek Continues” as part of a continuing series of episodes of the same fan series. That’s three guidelines violated right there. They hope they won’t get sued for doing this, but the only way to know for certain is to try it and see what happens. Even John Van Citters himself said that CBS doesn’t want a parade of fan films asking “Is this okay? Is that okay?” all the time. So STC has chosen to walk across the rope bridge and see if it holds. I hope it does!

          The guidelines are both a blessing and a curse for fans and fan filmmakers. But in the end, that’s the sandbox we’re playing in, and the sandbox belongs to CBS.

          1. …i REALLY like STC’s approach to the guidelines =)

            when is their first “post-guidelines” episode scheduled for release?

            if CBS is smart, they will let it slide, AND revise the guidelines accordingly… =)

            maybe STC should be the fulcrum for leveraging the guideline revisions (rather than Axanar)?

          2. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say about STC’s plans. My source didn’t tell me his/her information was cleared for sharing, so I’ll keep mum for now. All I’ll say is that, as a donor and a fan, I am VERY excited to see what is to come!

          3. No real intrigue. I have a friend who is connected to STC. That friend has shared some things with me which, I assume, are off the record. Unless I hear otherwise, I need to respect my friend…and STC. Heck, I know a lot more about what happened at CBS, Paramount, and Axanar during the lawsuit than I am allowed to share; I also know Moses Avalon’s secret strategy for winning the substantial similarity defense. But I promised not to share any of it. Trust me, I’d give anything to write a tell-all book about this, but I can’t. I don’t even share this information at dinner parties! 🙂

          4. I threw some money at Axanar and at Star Trek Continues. If it will get what’s already filmed finished and delivered, I’ll throw more, and if it helps get more episodes produced, I’ll throw even more. I’d throw more as Star Trek New Voyages if it would help get what they already filmed finished. I suspect the studios, in light of the existing bad publicity, won’t have too much problem with letting existing fan productions complete projects already past pre-production. They would rightly be annoyed at anything still in pre-production that didn’t follow the guidelines. The guideline I most have an issue with is the one that says people already involved in Star Trek professionally can’t help. WTF is CBSA/Paramount to say that private individuals cannot volunteer their time to whoever or whatever they want? Paid, yeah, but purely volunteer?

          5. Actually, that guideline violates California Business and Professions Code Section 16600. It also violates SAG union rules. It just hasn’t been challenged yet. Perhaps one day it will be.

  14. the funny thing is even if Alec used “some donor money” to pay for things like tires, car insurance, sushi….if the car was used for business purposes, and the meals were business related, Alec would be in the clear anyway. business expense is just that. there is no hard fast rule what the category entails. so even with a ‘lumped” set of financials, it can all be explained away as related to the making of a movie, and not”personal enrichment”. that is not to say the detractors wouldn’t complain either way lol.

    great interview by the way

    1. “that is not to say the detractors wouldn’t complain either way”

      Like death, taxes, the sun rising in the east, traffic on the 405 freeway in L.A., and summer blockbuster sequels…it’s pretty much a given. 🙂

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