Producers Claim Halting "Star Trek" Fan Fiction Movie Would Violate the First Amendment

The unauthorized Star Trek fan fiction film, already backed with over $1 million in crowdfunding, recently hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit by CBS has moved to dismiss the case claiming that an order to block the not yet produced movie would be an impermissible prior restraint on free speech.
Axanar Productions has raised over a $1 million to crowdfund their Star Trek prequel called, appropriately, Axanar. The film makers have already released an impressive 21 minute short film to introduce the story which has racked up over 1.9 million views on YouTube. Xander, featuring many famous actors, is set 21 years before the events of the first episode of the original Star Trek television series and tells the story of Garth of Izar and the Four Years War with the Klingons.
The short and full length film are based upon characters and storylines covered in copyrights owned by CBS. Axanar Productions does not have, nor did it seek, permission to use CBS’ copyrights. Alec Peters, a producer of Axanar and now a defendant in the lawsuit, claims in the Indiegogo funding page that they have permission to make the movie as long as they don’t make any money off of it…this isn’t quite…but Axanar believes that since it only uses minor characters, is not making money, and because CBS has not stopped similar fan films in the past, it is in the clear.
In December, the lawsuit was filed in which CBS claims that Axanar Productions has committed copyright infringement by using its characters, such as Klingons and Vulcans, and storylines from copyrighted material without permission. CBS wants production and release of the film halted and seeks damages and attorneys’ fees. Now, Axanar has struck back with a motion to dismiss the complaint.
First, Axanar asserts that plaintiff’s claims are not sufficiently detailed as required by the Federal Rules. Specifically, Axanar claims CBS has not specifically highlighted which copyrights have been violated but instead pointed to “thousands” of allegedly infringed copyrights. Makes sense, if you are required to defend an action, the sepcifice copyrights you are infringing should be detailed.
Second, Axanar claims this is an impermissible prior restraint on free speech in violation of the First Amendment. Meaning that CBS should wait until the movie is produced to assert objections on copyright grounds; if the objection is upheld now, the producers would not be permitted to exercise their free speech by making the movie in the first place. Concerning this restraint on speech, the Supreme Court stated in 1976 that a prior restraint is “the most serious and the least tolerable infringement” of First Amendment rights. This is a fair argument for the film but not the 21 minute short film that has already been made and has been airing since 2014.
In deciding the motion, the court could deny the request, grant it and dismiss the case or require CBS to be more specific in its pleading. Either way, this motion will not end this dispute so either the copyright infringement battle occurs now or when the movie is produced. Live long and prosper lawsuit.
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