Comics / Cult Favorite

Copy Right vs Copy Wrong


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By Philip Schweier
April 6, 2021 - 11:15

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Richard Hatch
Recently on a Facebook fan page, someone cited an interview in which Richard Hatch of the original Battlestar Galactica TV series “may*” have said that Universal prohibits fans from producing a Battlestar Galactica fan-made series, while Paramount Pictures has allowed fans to create their own Star Trek fan-made series.

While they may be in the same business, Universal and Paramount are two different companies. They obviously have differing business practices, and neither is obliged to follow those of the other.

One response to the original post suggested this policy amounted to censorship by Universal. I disagree with that description. I regard it as a company protecting its intellectual property (IP) from outside, unauthorized exploitation.

Basically, there are two ends of this supply chain: producer and consumer. However, we should recognize there is no top or bottom; the chain is lateral in nature. At one end, content is created (and thereby owned), to be enjoyed and supported – or not – by the audience (the end-user). The audience owns ABSOLUTELY NO PART of an IP, and has NO right to exploit concepts and characters owned by someone else.

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The cast of the fan-made series Star Trek: The New Voyages
What I surmise happened is that as the Digital Age enabled consumers to produce rather sophisticated films using their home computers, fans obviously tapped into their passions. When the quality was rather amateurish, media companies were less concerned. But then crowd funding allowed fans to pool money and resources, and create professional-level films. And suddenly, the media companies found themselves in a tug-of-war with their audience over their own IPs.

As I understand it, the final straw was Axanar, a Star Trek fan production that had attracted several name actors from science fiction films and TV (including Richard Hatch). Unfortunately, its ambitious nature drew the attention of CBS Paramount, which claimed copyright infringement.

This raised a question on the Facebook thread: “As long as the filmmakers are not profiting financially, how can they assert copyright infringement? These fan series are like free advertisement for the brand.

Even if there are no profits, that doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t a financial stake involved. Granted, a well-made fan series can help maintain brand awareness, but by their very nature, fan series are seldom polished, professional productions. Too many substandard efforts can impact the earning potential for an IP.

(Yes, kids, it all boils down to money. Welcome to the business of making movies.)

As Axanar was ramping up its production, CBS/Paramount was continuing to develop the Star Trek franchise. When it discovered unauthorized use of its IP, legal action ensued. This resulted in much of the money Axanar producers had raised to cover the cost of production to be diverted toward legal fees.

The producers of Axanar have been criticized for not following through on production, but that may be an unfair assessment. There is only so much they could accomplish, financially and legally. Personally, I find it regrettable CBS/Paramount is unable to “adopt” the production, providing amateur filmmakers with valuable experience while offering the Star Trek audience what may be an enjoyable glimpse into an unseen corner of Star Trek lore.

Another comment to the original post said, “I would understand copyright meaning copying the exact story and that author claiming it’s his/hers. But when you maybe use character names but the whole story is not an exact copy of the original, let’s say just using names, I do not see that as copyright infringement. You write a book with a totally different story line, just can’t see it as copyright infringement. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking too (sic) it. If I wrote a book about certain characters and someone else wrote a book but the story was totally different can’t imagine getting angry.

This person’s suggests that “copyright” is a literal term, referring to “copying the exact story.” But narrative is only one component of an intellectual property – there are characters and concepts that contribute to an intellectual property’s existence. Using Star Trek as an example, those would include Captain Kirk, Spock, the Enterprise and its crew, Starfleet, Klingons, etc. – all of which is copyright protected.

A Hypothetical Scenario

Let’s say you buy a home, and for the first time ever, you have a lawn that will need mowing from time to time. So you buy a lawn mower. Then your next-door neighbor asks to borrow the mower to mow his own lawn, and wanting to be a good neighbor, you agree.

This continues to happen, until you realize that your neighbor is no longer asking, he’s just borrowing it. Not only that, he’s taken to storing it in his garage. You now have to ask HIM to use the lawn mower YOU paid for. Only now you find it has been poorly cared for; the gas tank is empty, the bag is filled with clippings that are weeks old, and the blade was never cleaned after each use.

But I mow my lawn more often than you do,” he claims. “I should be allowed to keep it in my garage.

No. It’s not his lawn mower. So now you have to keep it under lock and key, to be certain the machine that YOU paid for is properly cared for.

It’s a similar situation with IPs. As the owners of copyrighted material, media companies – film, comic books, music publishers, etc. – have the right to determine the use of that material, as well as a responsibility to maintain its value on behalf of those involved in its creation.


Last Updated: September 6, 2021 - 08:15

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