Thursday, March 13, 2008

Star Trek fan productions-Legal issues

Since Wikipedia has tied itself into knots trying to be encyclopedic - don't get me started, it's a long story - I'm publishing an article I wrote for the Star Trek Fan Productions entry when I created it back in the early part of 2006.

Star Trek fan productions-Legal issues

The attitude of the ''Star Trek'' copyright and trademark holders towards fan works has varied over time. In early 1996 for example, Viacom went on the attack, sending out a wave of cease and desist letters to webmasters of ''Star Trek'' fan sites which contained copyrighted film clips, sounds, insignia, or other copyrighted material. Under threat of legal action, many Trekkers shut down, leaving behind scanned copies of letters sent by Viacom. Shortly afterwards, Paramount launched a subscription-based website, ''Star Trek Continuum''. In the lead up to the release of the film ''Star Trek: First Contact'', then-president of Paramount Digital Entertainment David Wertheimer stated Viacom was targeting sites that were "selling ads, collecting fees, selling illegal merchandise or posting copyrighted materials."

Faced with the threat of legal prosecution, most of the sites complied with Viacom's demands, deleting the offending data. However, a handful of webmasters resisted Viacom's pressure tactics, demanding specific citations of offending material from Viacom.

Viacom's actions were seen by numerous sources as an example of a wider civil liberties issue and poor public relations. In a ''Wired'' article, Jennifer Granick, a San Francisco criminal lawyer who went on to champion cyber rights, felt that the unofficial sites should be covered by the fair use doctrine in United States copyright law. In a 1998 article, UCLA associate professor Howard Besser saw it as an example of the content industry "exploiting concerns over digitization and attempting to reshape the law by strengthening protection for copyrights holders and weakening public rights to access and use material."

Fan fiction has been a specific battleground for the legal issues balancing a copyright owner's legal rights against a fan's use of that material, and ''Star Trek'' has been at the forefront of the controversy. Many of the precedents set by fan fiction apply to other media, particularly fan films and audio dramas - however, the same dangers apply as well. Incidents where fan have broken the tacit agreement between authors and fans (for example, trying to make money from a derivative work themselves, or accusing an author of appropriating their idea) has caused a backlash from certain authors.

''Star Trek'' fan films currently operate in an informational vacuum, since Paramount has made no official statement regarding their existence, pro or con. Fan filmmakers have generally kept a low profile, hoping not to draw attention to themselves. However, with the demise of official productions, the fan film community has been drawing more attention in the media, and even a certain amount of recognition from the entertainment industry.

Cow Creek Films, the production company at the time for ''Star Trek: New Voyages'', had contact with Paramount to successfully reverse a cease and desist order which resulted in a set of guidelines being verbally agreed on:

1) No profit can come from the film.
2) Cannot be shown in Festivals or at Conventions or any other venue where money is charged for admission either directly for the film or the event iteself.
3) Can only be a free download and cannot be offered in lieu of a "donation".
4) They are NOT giving us permission to do the show, but rather turning a blind eye to it as long as we stick to the rules.
Don't bother looking for the TrekBBS thread that had Jack Marshalls statement about the alleged "Secret agreement with Paramount", it has long been archived with the delete button by TrekBBS. Luckily I downloaded a copy. (-_^)