'Star Trek' owners sue to stop a crowdfunded fan film

'Star Trek: Axanar' raised more than a million dollars from fans, but CBS and Paramount want that money.

If there's one thing that CBS Studios and Paramount Pictures are good at, it's showing how much contempt they have for Star Trek fans. The co-owners of the sci-fi property have shoved a proud middle finger at the creators of a fan-made film, demanding that the project be shut down. Axanar, unlike other revival efforts, was the subject of a crowdfunding campaign that raised more than a million dollars across Indiegogo and Kickstarter. It was pitched as the first fan film to hire professionals who'd worked on the show behind the camera, hence the need for serious financial backing.

Court documents, found by the Hollywood Reporter, say that the studios want to prevent the film from ever being produced. In addition, their lawyers are seeking a jury trial to determine that Axanar, and its creator, Alec Peters, violates copyrighted materials like the USS Enterprise, Vulcans, Klingons and the name. If that wasn't punishment enough, the pair are seeking financial damages for any loss incurred -- and it's always nice to see an enormous studio picking on a 55-year-old California man for doing something he loves.

CBS/Paramount's relationship with its fans has been difficult to say the least, if only for how inconsistent it is. It's previously turned a blind eye to several fan-led revivals of the series, with the unwritten rule being that their makers can't make any profit from the work. That's the gray area that's enabled projects like New Voyages / Phase II, Of Gods and Men, Renegades and countless others to exist untroubled for the last few years. Unfortunately, that stance changed when the businesses decided to bring the show back, in the form of JJ Abrams' flashy but unsatisfying reboot.

For this Engadget editor, at least, this fight is a little bit personal, because as a 14-year-old, he was slapped with a lengthy cease-and-desist notice from Paramount's lawyers. That was because he'd had the temerity to enjoy the Star Trek: New Frontier spin-off novels so much that he'd started a fan website to promote them. Suffice to say, the firm's attitude towards people spending their free time to celebrate, promote and contribute to their licensed property soured his relationship with the show, almost irreparably.

Naturally, CBS/Paramount's army of deep-pocketed lawyers is likely to beat down even a wealthy and knowledgable fan like Alec Peters. It's a shame, since the film was hardly going to stand equal to the professional revival efforts like Star Trek: Beyond and the forthcoming online TV show.

Here's a final thought for whichever joyless accountant decided to kickstart this legal procedure and get the project shut down. Star Trek fans are passionate, loving and capable of pulling together millions of dollars purely to honor the shows that you have sat in your vaults. These are also the people that you're trying to convince to come to the cinema and spend $10 to watch Star Trek: Beyond. Given the reaction to the trailer, I'd suggest that taking a big dump on their breakfast tables isn't the right way to do it.

Update: Alec Peters has posted a statement, expressing his disappointment about learning of the lawsuit in the press. He says that the project, like so many other fan productions that CBS and Paramount have been fine with, is a love letter to Star Trek, and should be treated as such. He also says that he's hoping for an amicable resolution to the problem that'll avoid the need to take this to court.