Brave New World of Fan Film Guidelines
O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!
As always, I will go through them line by line. My credentials are here. The guidelines are here and they are current as of the writing of this blog post. We will figure these out together. My opinion on each guideline will be in numbered lists.
These images are not the greatest. You will see better images at the source! So send a request. However, the best images are on StarTrek.com.
I am going to divide everything up by number or section as is in the document. Every single syllable of the Guidelines is quoted herein, verbatim.
CBS and Paramount Pictures are big believers in reasonable fan fiction and fan creativity, and, in particular, want amateur fan filmmakers to showcase their passion for Star Trek. Therefore, CBS and Paramount Pictures will not object to, or take legal action against, Star Trek fan productions that are non-professional and amateur and meet the following guidelines.
While it is interesting that ‘fan fiction’ is mentioned, the mentioning appears to be solely as a preamble and a way of anchoring the discussion.
What is covered, and what may not be covered
These guidelines do not appear to be intended to cover anything but on-screen fan-created productions. These can reasonably be construed as being films or videotapes. They may or may not include animation or silent films (although they probably do). These guidelines do not appear to be intended to cover:
- Written fan fiction (although the filming of spoken or recited or read aloud fan fiction may come under these guidelines, particularly if there is a video component to accompany the audio)
- Audio dramas (it is unknown whether this would include audio dramas with accompanying visuals, such as a filming of a taping, or a slide show or an animation)
- Essays about Star Trek
- Blog posts about Star Trek (including this one)
- Plays or live theater
While these may seem to be some differences without true distinctions, it appears as if the letter and spirit of these guidelines is to cover people grabbing video cameras of any stripe (yes, that means phones) and filming each other. The visual component seems, to my mind, to be one of the more important aspects of this document and what it is intended to cover.
The good news (yes, there is some)
As for the paragraph itself, it is actually rather positive. It is letting amateur fan filmmakers know where they are ostensibly safe. This is essentially a promise not to sue (that is a HUGE deal, folks), so long as the following rules are followed. E. g. follow the guidelines, and there won’t be any objections which could theoretically lead to future lawsuits.
Furthermore, under the law of intellectual property, as I have said many times, it does not matter whether it is enforced against everyone or everyone equally. That is not a copyright enforcement requirement. Hence these guidelines can serve as a warning to fans. Cross these lines at your peril. But just in case the IP holders don’t hop to it and immediately sue you for that, rest assured, they have not forfeited any rights whatsoever.
Then we get into a section called, “Guidelines for Avoiding Objections“.
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.
I have seen any number of people running with this paragraph and spinning it however they please. Here is how I personally read this paragraph:
- You get only up to two episodes per story. Period.
- They can only total 30 minutes. No extras.
- Does this mean a second or third or fiftieth self-contained story could be developed? Possibly. The term ‘self-contained’ is ambiguous.
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 clearer and people seem to be trying to do a lot less interpretation. Here is how I see it:
- Star Trek Continues would probably become something like Continues, A Star Trek Fan Production.
- Nobody says ‘official’ anywhere.
- Any productions with ‘Star Trek’ in their marketing materials, Twitter handles, Facebook pages, Tumblr blogs, Instagram accounts, etc. must expunge that phrase.
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.
Again, this is fairly straightforward. Here is my take on it:
- The first two minutes of Star Trek Continues’s ‘Fairest of Them All‘ would most likely be right out. They are a shot by shot, line by line, block by block duplication of the original TOS ‘Mirror, Mirror‘ episode.
- You can’t just slip real footage into your film. I would assume this includes DVD extras and the like, so no Martin Madden, for example.
- Because there is no specificity as to type, it is possible that this guideline references musical themes and sound effects.
- The third part is most welcome, a push to assure fan films are not violating other productions’ (or independent authors’ and artists’) own copyright interests.
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 one is interesting, particularly in light of Axanar, where it appears defendant Peters was using either the original Garth of Izar and Chang (the Klingon, not the guy from Enterprise) costumes, with some or no modifications. Original, screen-worn costumes aren’t really bootleg anything. They are the real article. But they are not ‘official merchandise’. Could this offer a tiny degree of wiggle room in terms of trying to win the Versimilitude Olympics? I don’t know. Here’s how I see it:
- Spend money and buy licensed products.
- Don’t hire costume designers for canon-y stuff. But if you’ve got an original species which wears pink spandex chinos and yellow glitter-covered tube tops, feel free to recreate Roller Disco chic, circa 1978. Just don’t forget the lip gloss!
- Stay off the prop trading forums and sites if you want to dress up your shoots. Keep off eBay.
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 one does not just hit Axanar. Tim Russ in Renegades, and Kipleigh Brown in Star Trek Continues, may be as out as Gary Graham and JG Hertzler are from Axanar. Does it affect James Cawley? It might, given his uncredited cameo in Star Trek: 2009. I believe:
- No reprising of roles. Period.
- Given that STO is a licensee, and Simon and Schuster is a division of CBS Corporation, there are many people who are probably summarily out of the fan film business even if they have never heard of it. But others are not. Therefore, if you can get Stephenie Meyer to write for your fan film, then have at it.
- As the IP grows, the pool of permitted talent shrinks. However, this opens the door for amateurs. If I make a fan film, it’s cool. If I am hired by CBS or Paramount or any of their licensees in the future, then I have to stop.
- Amateurs are not well-defined. I strongly suspect membership in something like SAG-AFTRA creates a non-rebuttable inference of professionalism. For professional electricians wiring a sound stage, are they ‘professionals’, or a prudent expense to prevent fires? The spirit of this guideline does not seem to be to create hazards. If pressed, IP holders may not only accept professional electricians and carpenters, they may welcome them to ensure safety. I don’t speak for IP holders, naturally.
- Forget taking a salary. Even if you claim it’s poverty level.
Guideline #6 (in part)
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.
Because this includes platform fees, filmmakers cannot fudge numbers to account for crowdfunding fees. Since Kickstarter takes 5% of any successful crowdfunding campaign, and payment processing fees of 3 – 5%, a $50,000 take from Kickstarter equals about $45,000 – $47,000. This may push fan filmmakers away from Kickstarter, and that might turn out to be a good thing on balance. The other piece is to assure filmmakers don’t monetize their YouTube videos.
- If fundraising exceeds $50,000, a filmmaker can stop a campaign. Another idea is (assuming CBS and Paramount approve) to donate overages to a 501(c)(3) charity, or refund the excess.
- Since the term ‘fundraising’ is used, and not ‘crowdfunding’, this means any sort of fundraising, including autograph sales at conventions, solicitations via mailing list, etc.
- One big advantage to selecting monetizing for YouTube videos is that it allows you to schedule their initial release. However, the videos can remain free and unmonetized if you never connect the YouTube account to a Google Adwords account. Or you could delink an Adwords account. Either way, keeping the two separate and selecting the monetization option should be okay. To be on the safe side, contact CBS and/or Paramount and explain the situation, with accompanying screenshots.
Guideline #6 (continued)
- 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.
Eliminating physical perks is one way to stay out of fulfillment trouble. In addition, getting rid of advertising means productions can’t slap advertising onto a video, which makes for a better viewer experience. This section also cuts off ‘fire sales’ at the knees. My take:
- No more donor stores.
- No more handing out merchandise or selling it at conventions.
- No more advertising banners on fan film websites, which will make for an improved website visitor experience. Plus, seriously, banner advertising usually doesn’t make people a lot of money.
- No ‘fire sales’ of costumes, props, etc.
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.
This one makes perfect sense to me and is probably the least objectionable to most people. My take:
- Filmmakers should be able to make slash or even fairly violent stories so long as the sex and violence are not gratuitous.
- Sex scenes will most likely be cutaways, which is what they are on television anyway.
- Characters who express hate should be fine, even if they are racist or homophobic, so long as the upshot of a storyline is to counter their sensibilities. E. g. an episode devoted to justifying the slaughter of Muslims would be out, but an episode where a mass murderer of Muslims is brought to justice within the Trek universe is probably going to be okay (and could make for a rather compelling story line – please give me credit for my idea! 😉). Questions? Request clarification if unsure.
The fan production must display the following disclaimer in the on-screen credits of the fan productions and on any marketing material including the fan production website or page hosting the fan production:
“Star Trek and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film intended for recreational use. No commercial exhibition or distribution is permitted. No alleged independent rights will be asserted against CBS or Paramount Pictures.”
The use of a disclaimer is pretty standard. My view:
- This disclaimer, in part, is about trademarks. Although it cannot be used to ‘fix’ any instances of Star Trek and its IP holders not protecting their marks zealously enough in the past, it could conceivably help in the future.
- Don’t sell tickets to any showings of your work product.
- You’re not an indie production. Don’t call yourself that. You’re a fan film.
Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law.
This one is rather interesting, in light of the recent Axanar trailers and then their subsequent removals (and then Axanar sent DMCA take down notices to anyone who still had the trailers up). My take:
- You don’t get to send DMCA take down notices.
- You don’t get to license or sublicense your works (e. g. no licensing any derivative ship designs to modelers).
- Stay away from the US Copyright office. This seems to include any original elements tucked into fan films.
- Want to protect your original content? Then don’t marry it to Star Trek IP.
Fan productions cannot create or imply any association or endorsement by CBS or Paramount Pictures.
This one is fairly self-explanatory.
- Much like for guideline #2, you can’t claim to be official or associated or endorsed.
- If someone associates you with the IP holders in error, you should disabuse them of that notion. That means not only fans and casual observers, but also bloggers and members of the more traditional press.
CBS and Paramount Pictures reserve the right to revise, revoke and/or withdraw these guidelines at any time in their own discretion. These guidelines are not a license and do not constitute approval or authorization of any fan productions or a waiver of any rights that CBS or Paramount Pictures may have with respect to fan fiction created outside of these guidelines.
And my take:
- You do not have a license, and CBS and Paramount are not going to create anything that looks like or is called a license when it comes to fan filmmakers.
- These guidelines may change. In particular, I would advise would-be fan filmmakers that they might want to eventually contest the $50,000 limit. As time goes by and prices rise, $50,000 will buy less and less when it comes to physical props, lumber, authorized costumes, etc. At the same time, though, the costs of electronic production continue to fall. It may end up evening out.
- If you don’t follow the guidelines, you could potentially be sued. But that was already the case.
- These guidelines are not guaranteed to last forever. If they are abused, even these might be taken away.
Where Do We Go From Here?
There is a new official Star Trek podcast and we will be following it closely. Furthermore, for questions with the guidelines, fans should be encouraged to ask questions. Make sure you understand things before charging ahead. I will say, though, that documents and their contents are the responsibility of the drafter. Anything ambiguous or omitted can be construed as against the drafter.
Will these guidelines be retroactive? I don’t think so, but I am not sure. I suspect, though, that merchandising operations should be shut down as soon as possible. But I don’t think older episodes, shorts, teasers, and trailers would have to be taken down without a DMCA take down notice from the actual IP holders (that’s CBS and Paramount of course).
What about grandfathering in older, more established productions? I can’t say whether that will happen. The guidelines offer no such mechanism for doing that or petitioning to have it done.
Will CBS and/or Paramount sue again? Me you’re asking? I have no idea.
You wanted guidelines. You got ’em. At least the maximum time period is better than it is for the Star Wars Fan Film Contest Rules. In light of the Star Wars rules, a lot of these guidelines allow for a broader range of expression.
Welcome to the brave new world of fan film guidelines, where you follow what you can and stay off the Legal Department’s radar, you get creative with the finances, and you bring in new, untested talent and give them a chance to shine both in front of and behind the camera.
Thank you, as always, for reading and for your kind support. Questions? Please ask them in the Comments section, and I will do my best to answer you in a timely fashion.
She's also a published author (Untrustworthy, published by Riverdale Avenue Books; QSF Discovery 2 Anthology, published by Mischief Corner Books; and The Longest Night Watch Anthology 1 & 2, published by Writers Colony Press), and a prolific fan fiction writer. You can find her adding her fanfiction to our forums, or live tweeting our show.
We understand that she can be bribed with pie.