Star Trek Fan Film Guideline Shenanigans

Sorry, Vic. You’ll have to discontinue Star Trek Continues. CBS and Paramount don’t seem to appreciate us fans anymore.

Sweet Mother of Mercy!! Why?!! How?!! AGH!!!

In short, CBS and Paramount released stringent guidelines concerning fan films. I will give them this: as the copyright owners to Star Trek, they have every right to protect their intellectual property. I have no issue with that whatsoever. What I take issue with is how strict and insulting these guidelines are. And there’s only one reason why these guidelines were passed, and that’s because of Axanar Productions’s successful crowd-funding efforts to make a fan-film called Star Trek: Axanar. Long story short: a bunch of fans asked other fans for money to make a fan film to professional standards, and they got a lot more money than they asked for. CBS and Paramount caught wind of this and instead of turning a blind eye like they did in the past, they decided to outright sue Axanar Productions for wanting to make a non-commercial movie made by fans, funded by fans, for fans in a legally justifiable effort to protect the Star Trek copyright.

Here’s a link to the current guidelines, and I will go through the ones that will cause the most issues for creators.

“1: The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than 2 segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.”

This is severely limiting to people who made and make episode length series, and directly affect projects like Star Trek: New Voyages and Star Continues. Past feature-length projects, such as Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, are also affected by these guidelines. I worry about these fan films and projects, some of which are nearly a decade old at this point.

While fan films and projects and other media can be short and sweet, Star Trek has always told good stories when they have had time to tell them. An hour is just long enough to tell those stories and let them be fleshed out, while also not being too long and boring. What I have a problem with is CBS and Paramount dictating how long a fan production can be.

They also don’t allow for any exploration of characters, settings, or anything because the guidelines state that there can be no “seasons, parts, squeals or remakes.” Where were these guidelines when James Crawley and his team started making Star Trek: New Voyages episodes back in the mid-2000s?!! Those episodes have always been right at 45 to 70 minutes in length—and they’ve been released for about ten years now—and there was no issue. BUT NOW because an independent, fan run studio is making the Star Trek that us fans ACTUALLY WANT as opposed to the J.J. Abrams directed garbage soda the official rights holders pass for Star Trek, now they’re concerned about fans using their money so fans can make the stuff they want.

“2: The title of the fan production or any parts cannot include the name “Star Trek.” However, the title must contain a subtitle with the phrase: “A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION” in plain typeface. The fan production cannot use the term “official” in either its title or subtitle or in any marketing, promotions or social media for the fan production.”

This one is a bit more forward, but I don’t think any fan production I can think of has ever called itself “official,” unless it’s Axanar; the reason they did that is to attempt to thwart people who might try freebooting their product. Most people who make fan films are not stupid enough to ever claim their work is “official” unless it’s somehow endorsed or sponsored by the copyright owner. No issue there because it’s a non-issue and just some legal jargon. HOWEVER!! Not being able to even use the title Star Trek anymore is annoying. I don’t even have any issues with the “A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION” as a disclaimer, but it’s such a condescending and contrived annoyance to anyone who wants to make a fan production.

Looks like we gotta send you to mothballs, old friend.

“3: The content in the fan production must be original, not reproductions, recreations or clips from any Star Trek production. If non-Star Trek third party content is used, all necessary permissions for any third party content should be obtained in writing.”

First off, more legal jargon here, but it limits the creation of stuff like Star Trek: New Voyages and Star Trek Continues because they use the original characters in the series. That shouldn’t be a problem because those two series have been going for years now. Once again: where was the problem before, CBS and Paramount?!!! Did Axanar Productions get your undies in such an unrighteous wad that now you have a problem with people expressing their love for a character by portraying them? I’m fine with them protecting their copyright and other people’s copyrights (that’s why they included the third party permission line), but still! Legalese like this is an insult to people who pour love and labor into a fan production for nothing by the joy of making and sharing it with others.

“4: If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek uniforms, accessories, toys and props, these items must be official merchandise and not bootleg items or imitations of such commercially available products.”

This is just a way for CBS and Paramount to control fan productions and make money. “Hey! You wanna make a fan film? Better buy your props and costumes from us or we’ll sue your ass and get the money we want anyway!! MWA HA HA HA!!!” Decent reproductions can be expensive. The cheapest ones the official Star Trek online shop sells run for 50 USD and they look atrocious!! The ANOVOS made uniforms look better by a marathon, but cost three times as much when they aren’t on sale. Granted, making and producing costumes and props can run fans a lot of money too, but the clause about commercially available Star Trek essentially limits fan productions to official merchandise that looks like a shiny turd to something that looks ok, or to making their own uniforms (which they can do and maybe be a bit more money cost effective) and using dollar store toy guns as phasers. Gone are the days of building your own communicator props from whatever is laying around. Better fork over some money for props or a lawsuit: make your decision at your own discretion.

“5: The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.”

This is vague and murky on purpose, and a lot of it comes from the word “amateur.” Let’s refer to Webster-Merriam, the gold standard for defining words according to me. Webster-Merriam’s website defines amateur as: “one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession” and/or “one lacking in experience and competence in an art or science.” By these definitions, anyone who makes a fan film or fan based product for fun as opposed for money should be fine. I can easily see anyone catapulting a dictionary at CBS and Paramount with all the pages ripped out expect for the one this word is on, and all of the other words and definitions are blacked out except for “amateur” to prevent any misunderstanding. Additionally, if a former employee—be they actor or crew—offers their skills to a fan production for free, that’s their prerogative. As long as there is no current conflict of interest, it shouldn’t be an issue. Sorry, corporate America: no matter how much you might want to, you can’t tell someone you aren’t paying to do or not do something regardless of their skill level.


Please don’t sue me, CBS/Paramount. I swear I’m a real, amateur “fan.”

“6: The fan production must be non-commercial:

  • CBS and Paramount Pictures do not object to limited fundraising for the creation of a fan production, whether 1 or 2 segments and consistent with these guidelines, so long as the total amount does not exceed $50,000, including all platform fees, and when the $50,000 goal is reached, all fundraising must cease.
  • The fan production must only be exhibited or distributed on a no-charge basis and/or shared via streaming services without generating revenue.
  • The fan production cannot be distributed in a physical format such as DVD or Blu-ray.
  • The fan production cannot be used to derive advertising revenue including, but not limited to, through for example, the use of pre or post-roll advertising, click-through advertising banners, that is associated with the fan production.
  • No unlicensed Star Trek-related or fan production-related merchandise or services can be offered for sale or given away as premiums, perks or rewards or in connection with the fan production fundraising.
  • The fan production cannot derive revenue by selling or licensing fan-created production sets, props or costumes.”

The first bullet point on this list allows for limited fundraising on the fan producers’ account, which is a good thing. 50,000 USD can go a long way towards making something; it can help pay rent for locations, get materials for sets, costumes, and props, and other things, like food for cast and crew so they can eat in between shots and sessions. I’ll actually praise CBS and Paramount for saying, “Hey, a little crowdfunding is ok. Just don’t make any money off the production because that violates copyright rules. All right? We cool?”

Sorry, but we still aren’t cool due to the above bull crap, and the other bull crap I have to explain. Fans who made the fan series and films us Trekkies love understood perfectly darn well we couldn’t make money from them; funny fact is; we didn’t want to make money. We just wanted to make something better than what you’re currently giving us.

“7: The fan production must be family friendly and suitable for public presentation. Videos must not include profanity, nudity, obscenity, pornography, depictions of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or any harmful or illegal activity, or any material that is offensive, fraudulent, defamatory, libelous, disparaging, sexually explicit, threatening, hateful, or any other inappropriate content. The content of the fan production cannot violate any individual’s right of privacy.”

On the surface, this one seems OK. It’s not too egregious, but it has murky and vague language. Star Trek has clips of people using alcohol; hell, in one episode of The Original Series, Scotty out drinks an alien to help save the Enterprise (the episode in question is called “By Any Other Name”). As Andrew Dalton of writes that CBS and Paramount don’t want Star Trek’s brand to get hurt by anything too lewd. I get it: people want the brand protected, but that doesn’t excuse murky language that allows for lawsuits at the drop of a hat.

The last three rules are just legal stuff covering basic copyright law, and basically require fans to state: “Hey, viewers. This isn’t made or endorsed by CBS or Paramount. Us fans made it and don’t take credit for the creation of anything the official copyright holders produce. We aren’t going to seek any trademarks, and we’re just happy to make content for you.”

These rules may seem innocuous at first glance, and while they are perfectly legal, they are a brass-knuckles punch in the face to fans who have been creating content under an unspoken agreement and blessing from CBS and Paramount for years without any issue. There was no evidence of disapproval from the studios until the Axanar project crowdfund efforts raised over 1 million dollars (according to the official Axanar website), and these guidelines are basically part of a legal battle over whether or not the Axanar film can be made and released. Granted the Axanar project raises serious legal questions and concerns (no one could have predicted they would earn as much as they did), and I get that people and companies have every right—and need—to protect their intellectual properties. The problem I have with these guidelines is they are so insulting to people who pour in time and labor into Star Trek fan productions for the sake of expressing their love for something they care about. It feels like fans are being given a monumental finger burned into the moon, as if Star Trek Into Darkness wasn’t a big enough sign Hollywood doesn’t care about delivering a good product to fans and general audiences. To quote Captain Picard:


Fortunately, the guidelines are subject to revisions at any time. Maybe if us fans make a big enough out cry, the guidelines can be softened or changed to something more agreeable.

CBS and Paramount, I’m disappointed. I thought it was cool if we could make fan films. I guess that isn’t the case for now though.

For further analysis of the new guidelines, this article is a good read.

Author’s/Editing notes: Due to some reading at the Mary Sue which revealed some details about the Axanar vs. CBS/Paramount lawsuit (decent website, has some good content), confusion, and a little time to cool off, I felt I should include a link to the official Axanar website page to verify the 1 million dollar figure. Boy, they raised a lot of money! I also wanted to include a link to the Mary Sue article I read which shed a little light on the details of the lawsuit.

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