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…you don’t actually own it.

I wanted to mention the new rules for fan productions issued by CBS/Paramount. In response to the Axanar lawsuit, the intellectual property owner of Star Trek issued some strict conditions and limits for unofficial productions. As a result, not only are video productions shutting down but also audio drama series that have been going along fine for many years and other fan-organized activities.

Some fans and critics claim this action has caused a chilling effect on fans who only want to share their love of Trek and the visual arts.  True, there is little harm in having groups get together to make a movie and play-act being in the universe you love so much.  It’s an act of sharing and dedication.  However, advancements in technology and communication have led to a sort-of arms race between progressively more advanced and professional companies who hide behind their “fan” designation to generate lots of money for products that are indistinguishable from an independent film but without paying for (or even asking for) the right to take someone else’s work and present it as their own.

That’s theft.  When a professional collects a fee or salary or benefits in some way from the use of someone else’s property without the owner’s permission it is theft. When an entity can raise over one million dollars on the promise that they will produce a film, that’s no longer a fan enterprise.  That’s a professional endeavor, one so far over the line of “acting out of love” that CBS and Paramount had to put a stop to it.

The need for specific restrictions is the result of a lack of respect for the IP owner’s rights. In order to protect itself against the Axanar defense that “no one owns” the Klingon language or other elements of the Star Trek mythos, CBS/Paramount had to make sure it claimed ownership and control. As a result of “fan” productions raising over a million dollars in one case and millions of dollars collectively, all IP holders have to take a closer look at what really constitutes a “fan” production and what is a professional effort posing as fandom. It also has to take a look at profitability. A production may not be selling DVDs, but if a director and writer are being paid and the producers are paying contractors, isn’t a profit being made off the use of someone else’s intellectual property? Would such a production have raised so much money if the concept was completely original?

For lack of respect by a few “fans” and not obtaining a written agreement with the IP holders before embarking on a million-dollar production, we are now going to have to adjust to this new legal reality.

There is nothing to stop filmmakers from raising money for original projects.  There is nothing to stop fans from making costumes and props for non-commercial purposes.  Fan fiction will be written.  Conventions will continue to feature cosplay.  But no one has a right to take that love and commercialize it.

When fans turn “fandom” into a professional enterprise with more money than a typical small business start-up, they put other fans at risk.  Do I blame CBS/Paramount for shutting down shows like Star Trek: Outpost?  No. I blame fans for demanding a right to be entertained for free and forcing the lawsuit that resulted in these new rules.  Now that Trek has rules, expect Disney to revisit their own policies for Lucasfilm, Marvel, and their own properties.  Expect companies to learn from this suit and establish equally restrictive rules that will make it harder for small troupes with no money for a legal defense to celebrate what they love.

Those of us who are in the business of creating new worlds and characters with stories that entertain deserve certain protections.  When you or I create a world, we retain the right to decide who gets to tell stories in them.  I produce shows carrying a Creative Commons license.  Episodes are free to download and distribute.  I don’t charge people to listen or watch.  A lot of hard work went into the show by a lot of people.  I cannot pay them what they are worth so I cannot accept payment for myself.

Therefore, I indicate that my Creative Commons license prohibits commercial distribution and derivative work.  You can listen all you want, but you are not permitted to make your own stories in my world without my permission and you cannot package my show for sale. That is theft.  I appreciate it if you love my work.  Some might even say that I’m such a small fish that I should be honored if someone decided to show love for me by doing their own HG World or Hidden Harbor.

No.  It might be petty theft, but it is still theft.

Other artists simply want attribution.  The music I use in HG World comes from multiple sources.  In part, we use Kevin MacLeod’s music and his only requirement is that I list him in the credits.  That is his right and choice.

A professional asks permission and offers full transparency to the IP holder.  Being unable to afford to license a property is not a shameful thing.  If the goal is to create a non-commercial piece of media, then there is no reason to NOT approach the owners with a proposal.  A production that is capable of entering into contracts with actors, designers, and craftspeople should have no trouble putting together a project plan that specifies how the intellectual property will be used and exhibited.  It should contain the budget, the script, the schedule, marketing plan, and any ulterior motives like a desire to raise money for charity.  The onus is on the professional to ask permission, not the IP holder to track down every fan production.

Yes, there’s a chance of a “NO” but — that’s their choice to make just as a director or producer has a right to decide how to make their own original film.

Why? Because you did not create the properties you’re using. You don’t own them. You’re just borrowing them. If the owner doesn’t want to share, make up something new.  And if you get halfway through and the owner wants it back, it is just professional (and common sense) to give it back.

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