Court Allows Copyright Lawsuit Against Star Trek Fan Film To Move Forward

While there has been much discussion about Paramount’s copyright claim on the Klingon language, the judge in the studio’s lawsuit against the makers of a Star Trek fan fiction movie has chosen to not opine on that particular dispute while giving the go-ahead for Paramount’s larger copyright complaint to move forward.

A district court judge in California has denied the request by makers of crowdfunded film project Axanar to have the Paramount lawsuit dismissed. They argued that, among other claims, numerous individual elements of their planned production — including costumes, names of planets and places, the Starfleet emblems, and of course the Klingon language — are not protected by copyright.

The judge took issue with that argument, explaining that while some individual aspects of the Star Trek universe may not enjoy copyright protection, those same pieces do get that protection when considered together.

“When viewed in a vacuum, each of these elements may not individually be protectable by copyright,” writes the court. “Plaintiffs, however, do not seek to enforce their copyright in each of these elements individually. Rather, Plaintiffs’ copyright infringement claims are based on the Star Trek Copyrighted Works as a whole… The Court finds it unnecessary to analyze whether the allegedly non-protectable elements of the Star Trek Copyrighted Works are eligible for copyright protection because Plaintiff describes these elements in the Complaint solely in an effort to demonstrate how the Axanar Works are substantially similar to the Star Trek Copyrighted Works.”

In short, that means the judge isn’t going to answer the question of whether or not Paramount actually owns the Klingon language. Instead, it will look at the use of the Klingon language (and the other allegedly non-protectable elements) in the context of the entire project.

Which brings us to the filmmakers’ other bone of contention with Paramount: That the studio jumped the gun by filing a copyright complaint against a movie that hasn’t even begun filming.

Again, the court was unmoved by this line of reasoning, saying that Paramount’s claim wasn’t based on infringement of a specific Star Trek script or storyline, but on the entire universe that encompasses multiple TV shows, movies, and other works.

Thus, the judge said that it determining the similarity of the fanfic movie and the originals will likely be based on questions of “similar character, theme, setting, and mood.”

Additionally, while the filmmakers contend that the fanfic script is not finished, Paramount has pointed to published notes about there being a “fully revised and locked” script, along with the fact that one scene has already been completed.

To the court, this is sufficient for the case to move forward to trial, which is now set to begin in Jan. 2017.

“Although the Court declines to address whether Plaintiffs’ Claims will prosper at this time, the Court does find Plaintiffs’ claims will live long enough to survive Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss,” concludes the judge.

In a blog post, the folks at Axanar say they are working to reach a settlement with Paramount “so we can move forward with telling the story of AXANAR in a way that satisfies both the studios and the over ten thousand fans who financially supported our project.”