The New Axanar-Inspired Guidelines for Star Trek Fan Films

maxresdefaultIf you’ve been tuned at all to developments in the science fiction or intellectual property fields, you know that Paramount Pictures and CBS have been pursuing copyright infringement litigation against the producers of a Star Trek fan-fiction movie called Axanar. The fan/producers published the 20-minute teaser Prelude to Axanar on YouTube in August 2014 (which as of today has been viewed more then 2.3 million times), and raised over a million dollars through Kickstarter to fund a full-length film. This level of investment, and the project’s Hollywood-quality production values, set this film apart from the more common fan fiction that studios usually tolerate.

The lawsuit has already generated a wealth of interesting developments, including a fascinating debate over whether the Klingon language can be copyrighted, and conflicting statements to the public by the studios’ lawyers and by director J.J. Abrams about whether or not the studios will drop the lawsuit.

Most recently and with much less fanfare, CBS and Paramount have now rolled out a new set of official guidelines for fan-made Star Trek films. Neither the associated press release nor the guidelines themselves mention Axanar directly, but it’s hard to believe that the timing of these guidelines wasn’t inspired by the unprecedented attention to the issue generated by that case.

The text of the guidlelines are reproduced in full below. A few interesting details to note:

  • Neither these nor any other guidelines set a definitive bar as to what is, and is not, fair use of a copyrighted property like Star Trek. That determination can only be made by a court, applying the factors found in 17 U.S.C. 107. Rather, as the guidelines themselves note, this is a list of conditions under which the studios “will not object to, or take legal action against, Star Trek fan productions.” Still, the existence of these guidelines could be a persuasive consideration in any future lawsuit over whether a particular use of Star Trek content is fair.
  • The guidelines’ temporal limitations–no more than 15 minutes per story, with no sequels–would rule out Prelude to Axanar, not to mention the full-length Axanar film.
  • They contain a number of limitations on the use of Star Trek-related trademarks and official copyrighted content, which is to be expected. Trademark owners who give third parties carte blanche to use their trademarks without any quality controls risk losing their rights altogether.
  • Fans can raise money to support their project, but no more than $50,000–which also seems designed to prevent future Axanars.
  • The films must remain digital-only, and not be sold in physical DVDs–which hardly seems like a burden nowadays.

All in all, it’s a smart move for the studios to issue guidelines, given how popular fan fiction is in general, and in particular with the Star Trek franchise. The timing makes sense, not only because of the Axanar lawsuit but also because CBS is about to launch a new anthology-type Star Trek television series that explores the sorts of “untold stories” that fan films exist to tell. The debate will continue over whether these standards in particular are ones that fans can live with and that courts will enforce. Only time will tell on those questions.

Here are the guidelines in full:

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.

Guidelines for Avoiding Objections:


  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.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  8. 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.”
  9. Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law.
  10. Fan productions cannot create or imply any association or endorsement by CBS or Paramount Pictures.

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.



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Augmented Reality Investment vs. Virtual Reality Investment

Tortoise and hare

CB Insights recently posted figures showing Augmented Reality investment vs. Virtual Reality investment to date. There are multiple charts CB Insights posted that you can view here. I’ve included the 2 most relevant charts embedded below.


In the first chart, Virtual Reality funding accelerated and took off in 2014. This is not surprising given that Oculus, Vive and other Virtual Reality headsets were announced and imminently coming to the consumer market. It’s also expected that Augmented Reality funding would be lower in comparison given that most major Augmented Reality devices like HoloLens were still a few years off and not projected to be with developers until 2016. However, given the diversity of the Augmented Reality ecosystem (AR headwear, mobile AR image recognition apps, display tech using Kinect and Augmented Reality) it’s still a bit puzzling that Augmented Reality investment has been this depressed. We went over this in much more detail in 2014 in a blog post here.

What has been surprising from the CB Insights info above is the number of Virtual Reality content startups that have received large amounts of funding. A great portion of these Virtual Reality content startups produce film content for 360 degree videos and are receiving $5-$10 million Seed or Series A rounds that you would only typically see with a software company showing hockey stick growth. In my personal opinion, these VR content startups are commoditized production services, are ~10% or less margin businesses, have extremely low barriers to entry and don’t typically scale well. There’s also the issue that many people in the Virtual Reality industry don’t consider the 360 degree videos true VR.


As impressive as the acceleration in Virtual Reality funding was in 2015, it’s equally concerning seeing the drop in Q1 2016 funding for Virtual Reality startups. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality companies share a somewhat symbiotic relationship when it comes to investor confidence – a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ type mindset. But has the Virtual Reality hype led to too much investment too quickly into the Virtual Reality ecosystem?  And has that investment been weighted too much against VR content companies vs. other VR companies working on VR software and hardware to advance the technology?

As an Augmented Reality company, Zugara has shifted to development of technologies for both Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality ecosystems. We’re huge fans of both industries and feel they both will be the next major disruptive technology (Goldman Sach’s tends to agree.) However, having survived the initial Augmented Reality hype cycle of 2008-2010, we see many of the same issues with the current Virtual Reality hype cycle – especially with 360 degree videos. The similarities between 2008 and today are eerily similar – replace marker or image recognition technology with 360 degree videos and you see the same hype cycle factors – PR saturation, irrational brand excitement and companies announcing a premature shift to this new tech. As an example, Cadillac recently announced that it is going to offer virtual dealerships through Virtual Reality.

The difference though between the AR hype of 2008-2010 and recent VR hype is the level of investment that has gone into early Virtual Reality startups – especially content type companies that cannot scale the same way as software companies. It’s still a large unknown as to how popular 360 degree videos will be with general consumers and how the space will be monetized if there is little to no engagement with these types of videos. While brand press releases will tout the number of Cardboard headsets handed out or how many times a promotional video was viewed, there’s no mention of more important KPI’s for VR including engagement or conversion for longer term experimentation and adoption of the technology.

When Augmented Reality companies went through the initial hype cycle of 2008 it was without this level of VR investment which forced many of these AR companies to refocus on building better technology, target more definable use cases and to bootstrap until AR technology evolved along with investment interest. In comparison, the VR investment cycle has been sudden and with eye popping initial valuations. With the level of funding that has gone into Virtual Reality startups to date, there has been more immediate pressure to monetize VR technology before both the technology and the market matures. We’ve already seen signs of this with Jaunt recently replacing their CEO and major gaming companies not buying into the VR kool-aid just yet.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality technology are both still at a very early stage and Virtual Reality technology still needs to evolve with spatial mapping, gesture recognition and other features before it’s ‘true VR’.  On the other hand, Augmented Reality is already utilizing spatial mapping, object tracking, gesture recognition and other features that will be incorporated into their headsets and available to the public at launch (unlike VR). There’s a likely and growing chance that due to the VR hype (and eventual fatigue) that AR will be primed to accelerate even more quickly than VR given it’s product maturity at launch, larger projected market segments and enterprise and consumer revenue opportunities.

Longer term, we are moving towards a Mixed Reality future where future devices will incorporate the best features of both Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality technology.  However, with the current short term outlook on the investment race between AR and VR, Aesop’s famous The Tortoise and The Hare fable comes to mind. The numbers currently show a tale where VR has unsustainable acceleration like the Hare while AR continues to be slow and steady like The Tortoise. If you’re familiar with Aesop’s fable, you know who wins that race…

This post originally appeared as a LinkedIn Pulse article.

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Join the magic force!

ILMxLAB has been working on some cool virtual and augmented reality solutions before (as I reported in January). So, no surprise that they team up further with the big players or new innovators:

Lucasfilm / ILMxLAB and MagicLeap just announced that they are currently working on a cooperation. Their twitter post with a short video hit the web yesterday and we can finally see some more footage of the (possible) MagicLeap technology! It shows R2D2 and C3PO walking through the office building and R2 projecting a hologram to a table. Check it out below:

Again, we don´t know how the HMD (or other) will look like. We only see the shot how you would perceive it. The quality itself is as in previous demos. A holographic look and quite stable tracking, but without any additional interaction or a hint in what state all this is. Is it a quick rough tech demo? Or a useable system where the content can easily be updated and exchanged to do quick previs or real-time storytelling and experiences – focussing on the director only or towards a broader audience to dive into the force in the real world?

Of course, cool to see and it´s making our mouth water, but no real news has been revealed, though. I hope we can expect more next – after we´ve seen the patent showing a possible HMD the speculations are growing!

Supreme Court Gives Guidance on Award of Fees in Copyright Cases

credit: maria elena / flickr

credit: maria elena / flickr

Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued its unanimous opinion in the Kirtsaeng case, concerning the standards that govern the award of attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party as an element of “costs” under the Copyright Act.

The statute itself does not give guidance on when fees should be awarded. Prior Supreme Court case law was vague, identifying non-binding factors but giving  no guidance on how to apply them.  Today, the Court reiterated those factors ( “frivolousness, motivation, objective unreasonableness, and the need in particular circumstances to advance considerations of compensation and deterrence”), but endorsed the Second Circuit’s approach that courts “should give substantial weight to the objective reasonableness of the losing party’s position…. No matter which side wins a case, the court must assess whether the other side’s position was (un)reasonable…. Courts every day see reasonable defenses that ultimately fail (just as they see reasonable claims that come to nothing); in this context, as in any other, they are capable of distinguishing between those defenses (or claims) and the objectively unreasonable variety. And if some court confuses the issue of liability with that of reasonableness, its fee award should be reversed for abuse of discretion.”

This ruling was meant to resolve a conflict between the various circuits, some of which have articulated approaches to the award of fees that many interpret as more or less generous than the Second Circuit’s. To the extent that Kirtsaeng is interpreted as stricter than existing standards, today’s decision may result in fewer awards of fees, which, in turn, may decrease the incentive that copyright owners have to bring suit.

At the same time, though, today’s opinion is qualified. “All of this said,” the opinion continues, “the court must also give due consideration to all other circumstances relevant to granting fees; and it retains discretion, in light of those factors, to make an award even when the losing party advanced a reasonable claim or defense.” In light of this qualification, the real import of the decision remains ambiguous.

As with most Supreme Court decisions, therefore, the ultimate impact of today’s decision will be determined by the lower courts who must now apply it.

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