FAN FILM GUIDELINES: Reality Check (Part 4) – Betcha can’t choose just ONE!

In Part 3, I acknowledged a very  inconvenient truth for many fans: CBS owns STAR TREK.  This is the reality we live in, and if we want to continue in our quest to change the Star Trek fan film guidelines, we need to accept that fact and strategically move forward from there.

Project: SMALL ACCESS began as a protest campaign to convince CBS and Paramount to revisit and revise their new guidelines for Star Trek fan films.  And we had a plan.  After several weeks of discussion and debate about all of the guidelines, employing surveys and gathering suggestions for possible changes/improvements, we came to (mostly) a consensus that only about a quarter of the new guidelines were really troublesome to the 1,200 members of our Facebook group who were involved in the discussion.  Another quarter only needed minor tweaking to make them less ambiguous, and nearly half were fine as is.

Our plan involved creating and then sending out copies of our Focus Group Report to CBS and Paramount executives as a sort of “letter-writing campaign” to begin a conversation with the studios in an attempt to create a better compromise of rules that still protected the studios but allowed fans more flexibility in creating their films than the guidelines were permitting.

The plan didn’t work.  Although we know the studios received and were aware of the 115 copies of the 38-page report that was sent (they acknowledged receiving them during questioning in the Axanar lawsuit depositions–so we know the printouts weren’t just thrown out unread), there has been no mention by the studios of revisiting or revising the guidelines at all.

Over the past few months, I’ve done some deep soul searching about what to do for “Plan B” (assuming there even is a “Plan B”…which I would still like there to be).  And then I realized something, and again, a number of you aren’t gonna like hearing it:

The more guidelines we try to convince the studios to revise, the less chance there is that they’ll want to change any.

Here’s why…

Regardless of who wrote them, how, and why, these guidelines are now a product of CBS and Paramount (mostly CBS) and therefore reflect back upon the corporation and the employees thereof.  And neither likes to ever admit to making a mistake.

Had Project: SMALL ACCESS worked and convinced  CBS to revise some of the guidelines, it would have been like them saying, “Well, we were wrong.”  How often have you EVER heard a major movie studio say that?  (I never saw an apology for Highlander 2 or a “mea culpa” for Monster Trucks!)

And worse, changing the guidelines just because a thousand angry Trekkies told them to and threatened not to subscribe to their new streaming service?  That’s like paying the ransom to the kidnappers.  What would be the next thing these rabid fans were willing to hold hostage to force the studio to do meet their demands?  It’s a slippery slope.

So in hindsight, I’m not surprised that we didn’t get what we wanted. But one thing I do know is that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  And so if we want to have any success at all in getting some friendly cooperation from the studios, maybe we have to look at taking that one small step first…one small step for fan, one giant leap for fan films!

Okay, let’s assume we have a shot to change ONE and ONLY ONE guideline.  Let’s assume the studio(s) might–MIGHT!!–consider just that small request.  Given that choice, which of the 10 (actually 15…since guideline #6 is divided into six separate items) would we choose to make our ONE plea to the studios?

(And if you’re saying, “NO!  I refuse to choose just one!  They’re all bad!!!”  Then you’re missing the harsh reality that we’re not exactly in charge here.  If you want to try to convince CBS to change or eliminate a whole bunch of guidelines all at once, good luck to you.  I’ve been down that path, my friend, and this time I’ve decided to take another road.  And I humbly invite you to join me…and us.)

This choice actually isn’t as difficult as you might think.  After all, we can cross half of the guidelines off the “need to change” list almost immediately because they really aren’t bad at all.  (And to save me making this blog entry super-long by copy-pasting the text of each guideline, here’s a LINK TO ALL THE GUIDELINES you can click on for reference.)

And now, here’s a list of the…

“Nothing to Get Hung About” Guidelines

This first group is the “low-hanging fruit” of guidelines that aren’t really all that hard to follow and shouldn’t trouble anyone other than the most indignant fist-shaker.  And as I said, we don’t have the luxury to both shake our fists AND make any real progress.  A little humility goes a long way…

#2 – The title can’t have the words “Star Trek” in it and can’t call itself “official.”  If this bothers you, you’re really, really gonna have a hard time with this whole selection process.

#3a – No using clips or recreating existing scenes from Star Trek.  Most fan films don’t have that problem and haven’t used existing clips.  And if you really, really feel the need to recreate Kirk’s “E Plebnista” speech, just do it as a selfie video and leave it out of your fan film.

(And for now, please ignore the “a” that I put after the “#3” above…I’ll explain that later.)

#6.2 – The fan film can only be shown for free via a streaming service with no revenue collected.  Fine, that was the main “rule” before the guidelines anyway.

#6.4 – No ads or ad revenue.  Personally, I find those Youtube pop-over ads annoying anyway.  We should all be cheering this one!  No revenue neans no revenue.

#8 – The fan film must carry the four line disclaimer, “[Insert legalese here.]”  A disclaimer at the end of the credits?  So what?  Big deal.

#9 – No registering your work or any part of it as a separate copyright or trademark.  Honestly, I don’t know of any fan film that ever did this or even planned to (no, not even Axanar).  By the way, if you create a fan film, you still hold the copyright to it no matter what.  (Not the trademark, though; that’s different.)  However, a registered copyright carries along with it certain legal options involved in suing that CBS and Paramount don’t want fan filmmakers to possess.  What this means is that you can still claim the copyright to your specific work and ask YouTube to pull down any other version of your fan film that uses a substantial amount of it (and YouTube will comply).  But you can’t sue the person who posted it for infringement.  And since we’ve all seen how messy and expensive copyright lawsuits can get, I don’t think any fan filmmaker is missing out by following this particular guideline.  And remember, with Plan “B” we only get a crack at asking CBS to change ONE guideline…and this is not the droid you’re looking for.

#10 – You can’t say or imply that CBS or Paramount endorsed you.  Get over it.

BOOM!  Seven of the fifteen guidelines are now completely off of the list.  Wasn’t that easy?  Will the other eight be as easy to ignore?  Probably not.  But let’s begin with the next group, which I lovingly call the…

“What They Don’t Know…” Guidelines

As I said last time (and as Star Trek Continues has said as well), the guidelines don’t say that if you fail to follow them all that you WILL get sued…only that if you DO follow them all, you WON’T get sued.

Remember that CBS and Paramount just spent close to a million bucks on a lawsuit that lasted a year, got them terrible publicity, fractured their fan base, and wound up with a settlement that left the offending fan production and person behind it mostly intact.  In other words, the studios probably aren’t really motivated to jump back into the courtroom again unless the absolutely have to.

If anything, their future responses to fan films that push the envelope will more likely be a polite phone call or e-mail request, maybe a warning (depending on what you do), and at worst, a “Well, don’t do it again.”  I doubt we’ll see another lawsuit unless another Axanar-level production comes around and blatantly violates most or all of the guidelines with a belligerent attitude.

Also—and I know that many fans will not believe this—but CBS and Paramount are most likely not policing every new Star Trek fan film that comes out, analyzing each one looking for props or costumes that look like a bootleg or scanning through the credits for anyone who ever worked on Star Trek in any way.  Ain’t nobody got time for dat!

They’re looking for the most obvious guideline violations: run time way too long, Garrett Wang is playing Harry Kim, you raised $250,000 on Indiegogo, you gave away tons of perks, etc.  And even then, it’s still not a guarantee of a lawsuit.  Maybe just a cease and desist letter…or being given a second chance to edit it down or cut out the Harry Kim scenes.  Who knows?

But the point is that there are a number of guidelines that kinda work on the “honor system.”  So since we’re trying to pare down the list of offensive guidelines to choose just one to focus on for now, are there others that fans can work around for the time being?  (And no, this is not a “How To Sneak Past the Guidelines” instruction manual.  I’m simply pointing out possibilities.)

#3b – You must get written permission to use any non-Trek third party copyrighted materials.  (Remember that we had a “#3a” in the last list?  Well, #3b is the second half of that guideline.)  This is actually a “cover-your-butt” item for CBS and Paramount.  They’ll never sue you for stealing someone else’s intellectual property (by law, they actually can’t), but if that other copyright holder ever sues you—let’s say, for example, you use without permission a Beastie Boys song while your main character rides a motorcycle around an alien planet—the studio doesn’t want Def Jam Columbia also coming after CBS for encouraging fan producers to rip off other copyright owners.  “Oh, not us!” says CBS.  “Read guideline #3; we expressly discourage such actions!”  It covers CBS and Paramount but doesn’t really affect fan films much unless you’re using something else that’s copyrighted…which fan films have done for decades by using the original Star Trek theme music.  None has gotten sued for it yet, so this might be another case of non-willful infringement.  Anyway, CBS won’t ever change this guideline, as it protects them.  So take it off our list.

Next time, we’ll finish the list of “What they don’t know…” guidelines and then hit the last category: “There’s No Way Around ‘Em” Guidelines.

36 thoughts on “FAN FILM GUIDELINES: Reality Check (Part 4) – Betcha can’t choose just ONE!”

  1. Thank you Jonathan. We disagree but this was a well researched article and well written. I will be taking part in the survey. (Or survys)

  2. If there was one guideline that I could get rid of, it would be the one that states you can’t have continuing stories, series or characters. There were some great serials (e.g. Buck Rogers, etc.) back in the day that would be maybe 15 minutes in length but would continue each Saturday at the movies until the story arc was complete.

    1. The only challenge–and it’s one that I’ll be discussing next week, is that the “two-part/no-series” rule is designed to keep fans from creating a 2-hour feature-length film and then cutting it into eight 15-minute segments. I think I have a potential solution to that that the studios might be okay with…albeit not all the fans. I’ll discuss it next week.

      1. Yes, fan film makers can make their films 15 minutes long with 6 episodes total, bringing the whole production to a good 90 minutes instead of 2 hours – I don’t know if that’s your idea, Jon, but I suppose we can talk about that more in the next blog eh? – Look forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter… P 🙂

    2. I agree. I think guideline #5 may well be challenged somewhere down the road but I’d say that’s up to TPTB to sort out.

  3. You better understand this cbs DON’T own star trek and you should talk to the son of star trek in his name. CBS LOVE to takes other person work. I will never see cbs do this to us. All of the clubs DON’T like cbs.

    1. It was determined during the legal proceedings for the Axanar lawsuit–during the discovery phase–that the defense was satisfied that CBS does, in fact, own Star Trek.

      Sorry, Kenny, but if it’s a choice between you and the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of the United States of America, I gotta go with what the Court says. 🙂

    2. Kenny, they own Star Trek in a legal sense, if not a moral one. The law as it stands sucks and has to change, but this is how things are right now. I do however prefer to say that CBS controls Star Trek rather than owns it. That fact that control is legal is a farce.

      1. Hey Ken, whenever you acquire the rights to something whether it’s Star Trek or your row boat, it belongs to whoever has legal forms of ownership !
        As for moral ownership, well that and fifty cents will buy you a gumball –
        The laws on ownership may appear to you as rough and tough but you’ll live!

  4. #3a – No using clips or recreating existing scenes from Star Trek
    Could they conceivably argue that any bridge scene applies?

    1. It harkens back to a quick clip from STC’s “The White Iris” taken directly from “The Paradise Syndrome.” No more of that.

      Keep in mind, the purpose of the guidelines is NOT to shut down all fan films (as many of us first thought it was). There’s easier ways to shut them all down without creating a complex set of guidelines—some very ambiguous—for fans to follow. So “could they conceivably…?” takes us into a place of conjecture that makes an incorrect assumption that the studios are looking for nefarious ways to drag fan productions back into court. That’s actually the last thing they want to do.

  5. “Had Project: SMALL ACCESS worked and convinced CBS to revise some of the guidelines, it would have been like them saying, “Well, we were wrong.” How often have you EVER heard a major movie studio say that? (I never saw an apology for Highlander 2 or a “mea culpa” for Monster Trucks!) ”

    Though to be fair we did receive a apology for Wolverine Origins in the form of Deadpool as for the perfect representation of the character . The same thing could be said for the 2014 Godzilla Movie as well and by not sucking .

    One other I feel that I should point out is during the Axanar Debacle I feel that there was a good number of people who attitude is like ” Let’s destroy CBS ” or No guidelines or at all ” I don’t know if you experienced those same sentiments or not but as you pointed out very well changing the guidelines or some fans mind wanting to destroy them all the guidelines is just like paying the ransom to free hostages .

    1. Even back when Small Access began, the idea was never to destroy CBS, Paramount, Star Trek, or the guidelines. I was pissed, yes, but not beyond reason. Now I’m even less pissed. Bob Marley would have been proud. 🙂

  6. None of the ones you discussed in this post bother me in the least except for 3a and I don’t feel very strongly about that one.

  7. “I never saw an apology for Highlander 2 or a “mea culpa” for Monster Trucks!”

    Or Indiana Jones 4, or the Starwars prequels,or Daredevil or JarJar Binks…

    Seriously, though, with my own project I don’t see myself running afoul of any of CBS/Paramount’s Ten Commandments – at least for a while. I work in animation (Poser), and do everything myself, including modeling the sets and the ships. I’m planning on using volunteers for my voice actors, and I’m not looking for any crowdfunding (although, I wont turn down donations). And because of the amount of work involved, I don’t expect to breach the 15 minute/half hour threshold anytime soon.

    That said, the only one of the commandments I ever expect to have any problems with is the time limit/continuing series prohibition. And, as we have seen with other fan film series, there are ways around that.

    So, if the big studios want to issue a C&D order or even sue a one man, zero budget fan film for making a 3 part 40 minute fan film based on their IP, I say bring it on! I can use the free publicity!


    1. “So, if the big studios want to issue a C&D order or even sue a one man, zero budget fan film for making a 3 part 40 minute fan film based on their IP, I say bring it on! I can use the free publicity!”

      Well, I wouldn’t go asking for a lawsuit, George. Those things ain’t cheap…even if you find pro bono counsel (which, to be honest, isn’t lightning with any realistic probability of striking twice).

      1. Oh, I never go looking for trouble… 😉

        And, as I’ve said previously, it will be quite some time before I break the 30 minute threshold (if ever!) and I’m sure the issue of the guidelines will be settled, one way or another, long before then.

  8. I can say without waiting for next post that I am most against restriction of professionals cast/ crew being involved. As a creator, and with respect for creators, I vehemently reject CBS making such “request”. What projects actors and production crew participate in is not for CBS to decide (except if particular contracts state otherwise). I would solicit Trek actors & crew, who have worked on Trek fan films, to protest against this idiotic rule/ blatant violation. Don’t elevate/ defend corporation over people.

    1. And if that protest winds up in a million-dollar lawsuit and CBS doesn’t change the guideline but you wind up bankrupt, was it worth it?

      Some might say yes. But for me, I’m not a proponent of playing a game of chicken with a publicly traded Fortune 500 corporation. I’d rather save my money for Disneyland. 🙂

  9. How are there any guarantees Peters and company will actually make something? I mean the lawsuit didn’t slow them down at all. They had a solid year to make a film, to put something together, and they didn’t.

    1. The lawsuit didn’t just slow them down, it resulted in the defense team recommending a complete halt to any new production…and with good reasons (as have been explained in multiple places on this website). Now that the lawsuit is settled, work can begin again…and the first step is creating a new half-hour script to shoot. Pre-production has begun, my friends!

    2. It’s probably going to become a mantra with me: People, quit acting like Axanar following the advice of their lawyer is an invalid reason!

      1. HubcapDave, you always have consider the source where the information is coming from before you can establish it’s credibility, in the case of Axanar I would put any stock in anything that’s being shoveled out! The Judge in this lawsuit claimed from the beginning that the fan film could continue with production, in reality the lawsuit had already been filed and was going to proceed regardless of whatever Alec done after the fact ! The Axanar fan film could have been completed and resleased, probably in full length or for sure edited to the time restiction, and all these donor’s would have been enjoying it ! As it stands now, nothing has been produced, the donor funds are gone into the toilet, actors have moved on or passed, and the studio is on extremely shaky ground and going down fast – does any of these FACTS make you really believe this Axanar will ever become a reality !

        1. I can confirm that Erin Ranahan (Winston & Strawn defense attorney for Axanar) strongly recommended that Axanar suspend production until the resolution of the lawsuit. She said the same thing to me when we spoke directly. There was a serious concern that proceeding with a full-length second production while the lawsuit was going on could 1) result in a second lawsuit (or an amended first lawsuit), and 2) potentially jeopardize both a fair use and a non-willful infringement defense.

        2. “HubcapDave, you always have consider the source where the information is coming from before you can establish it’s credibility, ”

          I’m wondering if Tony realizes the hypocrisy?

  10. Yes… The Guidelines… I see, why they do it. And the only really problem I’ve with them is the “no series”-part. I was part of a little german fan series made with the MMO “Star Trek Online” (scenes filmed in the game and edited with voiceovers and stuff like that), named “Star Trek Online: Columbia” as the voice of one of the officiers of the u.s.s. columbia. This project died because of the guidelines, because it was a series with 30+ minutes episodes.
    But ironically the guidelines has done something good for me: I’ve made my own fan-project, a radioplay (remember the engage-podcast shortly after the guidelines? I think CBS-CEO Moonvers was it (not sure) who said there, that the guidelines are only work on fanFILMs. Not fan-stories, fan-radioplays and so on. So I made a radioplay-series based on the RP in STO. I wouldn’t have done this without the guidelines and I wouldn’t be able to do a fanfilm in the quality, that my fan-radioplay has.
    And of course: It’s a continued series (with only the first episode finished ’till now). The runtime of the first episode is ~40 minutes. With “Star Trek” in the title. But it says clearly in the description, that it’s not official and has nothing to do with cbs or paramount, but that they have all rights. Like a pre-guidelines-fanfilm.

    1. The podcast was an interview with John Van Citters, the ‎Vice President of Product Development at CBS Consumer Products…who used to be my boss. 🙂

  11. I have been pondering the following:
    To who does guide line no. 5 apply? i.e. “The fan production must be a real ““fan” production”.
    I personally am a skilled photographer and editor and I have produced professional work such as infomercials, commercials, music videos etc for about 20 years. I am also a voice actor (narrations, commercials etc) but not a screen or stage actor. Would the guide line mean that I or anyone like me would be able to participate in a Star Trek fan picture as an actor but not as a D.O.P or editor and vice versa? And what happens once I do professional work as an actor?
    what if a the fan film was made in a foreign territory where laws and regulations concerning intellectual properties are slightly in the grey area and whilst doing that violates some or all of the guide lines? Say, longer than 2 x 15 minutes and a professional crew that is compensated for their work.
    I suppose that if the finished movie was published on YouTube it could be ordered to be removed by CBS but would happen if it was published on YouBe (Chinese YouTube) or somewhere slightly more shady place such as the “youtubes” for adult entertainment?

    Concerning the 2 x 15 minutes limitation; what if a script was divided into a number of self contained parts and produced and filmed by independent and separate crews and directors? something in line of the movie “Four Rooms”.
    Would the guide line in question still be in play then?

    The guide line states “…with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes”.
    To who does this apply? just the happy-go-lucky-gang-of-star-trek-fans that just made a fan film or everyone who has ever considered doing a fan film? i.e. if a story showed great promise but the production was really really awful is that specific story then forever unavailable to be either be remade/revisited by a more talented crew?

    These thoughts and questions of mine might be just borderline silly since they split hairs concerning the guide lines.
    I know that, as being stated by some, that they are “just” guide lines and by following them one is playing it safe. It doesn’t say that CBS and Paramount WILL sue if you break one or several of them.

    What are your thoughts on these matters?

    1. As you said, Marcus, the guidelines don’t mean that if you violate them that you WILL be sued…only that if you follow them all, you WON’T be sued. That said, if you get sued, the complaint in court won’t be, “You hired and paid someone,” or “You went over 15 minutes.” That’s not grounds for a complaint. The lawsuit will read “Alleged infringement of copyright.” The hiring and paying of a professional is simply the trigger. Being too long or doing too much crowd-funding or issuing perks is just the trigger for the infringement claim. And it’s possible the studios won’t sue but only ask you to take the video down. And if you don’t, then there might be a lawsuit. And if you SAY you took it down but it stays up in China, maybe the studios will believe you…and maybe they won’t and you get sued.

      And so the question is: do you want to risk being sued?

      If you do risk it, then a potential legal defense (assuming the only thing you do is hire and pay a professional on the production) is to argue that the guidelines create an implied contract (even though they say they aren’t an implied contract, the judge could still rule that they are, in fact, serving that function). And in California, where both studios have a business presence, any contract where anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void.

      If you can get a judge to agree that the guidelines are an implied contract granting permission for a fan film to use the copyrighted material in exchange for following the guidelines, then the case is no longer about copyright infringement as it is about breach of contract. And if you followed all of the other guidelines except #5 (which is void in the state of California), then there is no material breach and the case should be dismissed and the copyright infringement claim invalidated. However, a LOT of dominoes have to fall in just the right way to achieve that outcome.

      As for the idea of making multiple parts of your fan series with independent crews, I personally think that idea works better in the imagination than it does in reality. Fan films are not easy to make–even the shortest and cheapest ones. And there’s usually one main motivational force-of-nature behind it–James Cawley, Vic Mignogna, Nick Cook, Alec Peters, Kenny Smith, Robin Hiert, Tommy Kraft, Randy Landers, David Whitney, etc. Asking that person to assemble two or more separate crews is a tall order; it’s hard enough just assembling one. So while it might be fun to play “what if?” with this idea, I doubt it would ever come to pass.

  12. True Jonathan,
    It basically comes down to avoid risking being sued.
    One might argue that what the guidelines stipulate is “if you want to play in our park you need to abide to these rules otherwise we might have to ask you to leave and if you don’t comply we will call security, escort you of the premise and in some rare case roll you in tar and feather and then mount you backwards on a worn down donkey that is being led through tinsel town by the nun from Game of Thrones who rings her bell and shouts “-Shame!””. 🙂
    Or something down those lines…

    But in all seriousness: where does being an amateur end and becoming a professional begin?
    The definition of an amateur is:
    “One who engages in an art, science, study, or athletic activity as a pastime rather than as a profession.” or/and ” Not professional; unskillful”.
    -There’s a slippery slope for you…
    Is a skill photographer who has only worked as a news gatherer for TV considered an amateur if she/he takes on the role of “Director of photography” for a Star Trek Fan-film?
    According to the guide line no. 5 “creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services”
    -Who will get to decide if a person is an “amateur” or a “professional”?
    What will happen when a person (director, actor, photographer etc) becomes more skilled from the experience of making, in this case, Star Trek Fan film/s and maybe eventually starts working professionally within the business?
    This might be just splitting hairs but way I see it; right now makers of star trek fan films works under the good grace of the IP holder CBS/Paramount but might just as easily be subjected to their whims at any given time if anyone or anything in a fan film strikes them as “to” professional thous “breaking” guideline no.5 .
    However, I do not believe that is CBS & co’s intention concerning the guidelines. I believe that they basically just want to protect their IP and in the process give the fans the possibility to play in their park under certain rules. Rules that I think overall are fair and some are just draconian.

    When it comes to sharing a project i.e. the idea i toyed with in my last post, I do realize that you do need a strong driving force.
    Still, it would be interesting to see how it would turn out if e.g. James Cawley and Vic Mignogna who both have/had the skills and resources to pull something like that off.

    1. In a legal sense, “professional” means that you get paid and “amateur” means that you don’t. Now, in a perfect world, the studios want no one to get paid for working on a fan film, which means that union labor (Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild, Writers Guild, etc.) would be off-limits since those organizations require a certain minimum payment for any participation in a film production. However, the unions might not appreciate that limitation (since some fan films were SAG signatories already), but that might end up being their battle for fight, not the fans’.

      Of course (and I will get to this in the next blog segment tomorrow), if a production does pay anyone…why do they need to actually TELL people about it? It’s their business whom they pay and whom they don’t. Do you have any idea if anyone got paid to do Dark Armada? Of course you don’t! Only Axanar and Star Trek Continues ever published any public information on who gets paid and how much (and of course, we know from certain people involved with Star Trek: New Voyages that certain actors, writers, and editors were paid). But in general, fan films don’t tell. So if the studios don’t ask, and the fan films don’t tell (and there’s nothing requiring them to unless they are first sued…which kinda goes against the guidelines if the studios aren’t sure before they sue), then the first half of guideline #5 isn’t as much of a problem as some might think. The second half, however, is more problematic…

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