Friday, June 24, 2016

Buh BYE CBS and Paramount (A Star Trek Rant)

CBS and Paramount their Guide to Fan Productions.  Star Trek fan productions, specifically. Here's a link.




WHAT ARE THE GUIDELINES?

What, didn't you read them? No? That headline is a link. So go do it. If you read them carefully, this is the part where you learn that CBS and Paramount (or at least their lawyers) know something between Jack and Shit about Star Trek.

Granted, some things are just common sense legalese. There's a disclaimer of copyright. It should be non-commercial. It should be family-friendly. But the details become onerous. For instance, they define family-friendly as "...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."

Well, gotcha on the nudity and sex (which Trek fans don't generally go for anyway). But you get into serious trouble when you try to over-think definitions, thus defining away anything that could provide a story with conflict or tension. According to their own guidelines CBS would have banned the original series episodes "Mudd's Women" and "The Trouble with Tribbles".  "Mudd" dealt with the use of an illegal "Venus drug", whereas "Tribbles" hinged on the clearly harmful and illegal act of transporting environmentally harmful bio-organisms. They would have banned Scotty's drinking bout with the Kelvan in "By Any Other Name". These guidelines would also have banned the Next Generation episode, "The Game" for its depiction of addictive behavior. In "Relics" Data reached into Guinan's private store and broke out the real booze... Ban it.

Any number of Star Trek episodes were actually designed to deal with topics that are "offensive", such as racism and sexism. The point of Star Trek is social commentary. Star Trek imagines a better future by satirizing those issues that are divisive in our own present. And CBS and Paramount Pictures completely, utterly miss the point.

But that's late in the list. They put the boot down HARD starting with Rule 1.
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.
Get that? Thirty minutes total. PER PRODUCER. One shot at it, no remakes, no chance to hone their skills. In subsequent rules we learn that it can't be called "Star Trek" or include "Star Trek" in the title. If the production uses any uniforms, props,  or accessories that are commercially available, they must be purchased from an official licensee. No building your own. You can't purchase any creative services, and no one who has ever worked in an official Star Trek production in any capacity may take part. So you can't hire a guy who made a prop for them to make a completely different prop for you, and he can't even do it for free, out of love. The studios will object.

And IF you were to "sign on" to these rules as a code of conduct, you might find yourself barred from doing things that would otherwise be completely fine under Fair Use, such as the re-creation of an official scene for the purpose of parody (Rule 3). They clearly overstep even the broad bounds of copyright allowed to a creator by law.

Having read the rules, I re-read the first sentence: "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."  Then I threw up.

Here's a fun fact for you. When CBS wanted to do the "In a Mirror, Darkly" episode of Enterprise and they needed Sulu's targeting scanner, where did they go for the prop rather than build it from scratch? And where did they go for the wrap-around tunic that Captain Archer wore? Answer: to James Cawley's "Star Trek New Voyages" fan production, which they have now effectively shut down.

Sonuvabitch.


WHAT IS THE FALLOUT?

Notable current Star Trek fan productions and series include Star Trek Phase II / New Voyages; Star Trek Continues; Starship Farragut; Star Trek Valiant;  Star Trek: Antyllus, Star Trek Hidden Frontier; and Star Trek Aurora.

ALL of them would face legal prosecution under these guidelines. In fact, I know of NO fan production of any length that would not. As the people who wrote these guidelines are doing so in support of a lawsuit of their own making, they've done their research. They know this. Therefore, this is intentionally targeted at all fan production. All must stop what they're doing, according to CBS and Paramount Pictures. And you'll find that they have.

The studios didn't offer terms to license these productions. They just stomped on them.

This is after they cheerfully announced that they would be dropping their lawsuit against Axanar. Let's not forget that this was because they have a new Trek movie coming out (the name of which suddenly escapes me) that they have already spent millions of dollars on, which doesn't need the bad publicity of a lawsuit. I wonder how they decided that a middle finger to the fans would be just the thing to boost ticket sales?

I do understand CBS and Paramount's beef with Axanar. Axanar Productions used their crowdsourced funding to build a studio and pay salaries. They used Star Trek to fund what is to be essentially an ongoing commercial venture. And Axanar's response was to attack CBS and Paramount's copyrights. But CBS and Paramount's guidelines don't really address the problem. It doesn't begin to touch Axanar's claims of Fair Use. Even if you think Axanar is a cancer, CBS and Paramount's response was to simply poison the patient and call it chemotherapy.


HOW TO RESPOND?

The filmmakers behind these fan production have to tread on eggshells. They're "playing in someone else's sandbox" and they know it, and are grateful for having had the opportunity. On the other hand, I'm a viewer... I don't have to appease anybody. I not only have the freedom to tell it like it is, I have a hand on the purse-strings and the ratings and the box office results.

For me it's very simple: unless and until CBS / Paramount stop being batshit crazy, I won't spend money on a ticket. I won't buy merchandise or books. I won't sign on to their new web platform, and I won't watch their new show. And it's really easy to stop being batshit crazy: simply offer reasonable licensing terms for fan productions. Charge a fee for it if you like... it can be paid through crowdfunding. But don't pretend that the stuff that you very publicly allowed is suddenly evil.

Let me be clear: it has been fan productions like those listed above (and others) that have kept my interest in Star Trek high. It has NOT been CBS, and it has NOT been Paramount. These FAN productions have put MY money into the hands of THOSE corporations at exactly no cost to the corporations themselves. So while CBS & Paramount Pictures are fully within their rights to make whatever restrictions they see fit, they should do it knowing that we, the ticket-buying Public, are perfectly free to spend our money where WE see fit. For my part, I won't spend a single thin dime to support bad (and even stupid) corporate behavior.  And I want to make sure they fully understand that they just bit the hand that literally feeds them.

To that end, I won't watch ANY movie that comes out of Paramount Pictures. Star Trek in particular, but it wasn't the Trek producers who dropped the hammer. It was the corporation. So I personally won't give them a pass on any movie. I'll be looking at IMDB before I choose a movie to see, just to make sure.

But I will tell you this: If ANY of those amateur production companies want to put forth effort into creating original content that's not Star Trek related, then I am 100% behind them on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. I am VERY happy to financially reward them with many times the amount I would have spent on those Ferengi at Paramount and CBS.

In fact, Blade of Honor has got that ball rolling. Formerly Star Trek Horizon, they changed direction and are now creating a high-quality original content production starring Richard Hatch, Tim Russ and others. They're getting my money.  I've just heard that Renegades (formerly Star Trek: Renegades, starring Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols) is following suit. They're getting my money, too.

You folks can do what you want.




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