So A few weeks ago when they announced the new rules for Star Trek fan films it got me thinking. I started asking myself some questions.What role do fans have in the world of entertainment?
How important are they?
Should they have any say in the way the story unfolds or what kind of story is sold to them?
Does entertainment have a responsibility to the society in which it exists?
Do major studios and content creators respect their fans?
Do companies respect their creators?
What is work for hire and is it ethical?
Do Monopoly laws still have any place in this world and are they still being enforced?
What does copyright laws protect?
What is trademarks and how do they work together?
What is the Mickey Mouse protection Act and is it ethical?
How file sharing has impacted the way entertainment is created, shared and distributed?
How people feel about it?
Now in order to properly discuss something like this, our own feelings are not enough. We have to know the legality of it as well. We should understand both sides of the arguments and where the law stands, so before we get into what we feel about this stuff, lets talk laws. There are three laws that we need to understand in order to have form a valid opinion on these topics. Copyright, Trademarks and Monopoly.
What is copyright? Copyright is a form of ownership over a work. Today it lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. You can get your work copyrighted through the government but according to the law, copyright is given to any completed work. The reason for registering a copyright is to get prof of when the work was completed.
Copyright was invented along with the printing press. Charles 2 of England was concerned that unregulated copying of books so he passed the licensing of press act of 1662, through Parliament.
The law stated that printing presses were not to be set up without notifying the Stationers' Company. (The Stationers' Company was organized in 1403. It received a royal charter in 1557 and held a monopoly over the publishing industry until the Statute of Anne in 1710. it's role was to regulate and discipline the industry) A messenger of the King has the ability to enter and search for unlicensed printing presses and fine or arrest anyone who had one. This law was renewed for 7 years until 1965 when the Commons (The lower house in England)
Publishers kept trying to pass another law, they claimed it was to protect the authors but it was to protect themselves. After all if printing presses were only owned by a few than what could authors do with their work other than sell it to publishers? Th is a problem that still goes on till today, just ask the music industry how much power the artist have compared to how much power the record labels have.
In 1710 the first copyright law was passed. It was called the Statute of Anne, since it was enacted under the reign of Queen Anne. This law made it so only authors and their publishers could make copies of their work. The copyright would last 14 years before the work would be released into public domain. (Anyone can use) It was in affect until a new law replaced it in 1842. But the Statute of Anne is important because it was an influence on the copyright laws of the United States, which is what we are here to talk about.
In 1787 the United States passed their own version of copyright protection. Stating that the authors of original works should be granted protection, copyright, of their works for a Limited time. That is the key here.
The next major copyright law came in 1909, and while this law has since been replaced by the 1976 law, it is still in effect for works made before 1978, looking at you Mickey. This law let States control copyright for unpublished works, but published works were under Federal law. It made it so that anything published that wanted protection needed to put something on it stating that it was copyrighted. It also stated that copyright was for the good of the public and not for the good of the author. A change from the last version. It also gave films copyright protection for the first time. It gave protection for works up to 28 years after first publication. With a possibilty of 28 year extension.
A few exmples of characters that should be public domain.
Mickey Mouse: 1928- 1956-1984
The current law on the books is the copyright act of 1976. This law is what gives us the Fair Use cause. It changed the start of the limited time to the death of the author instead of the time of publication.
1: Literary Works
2: Musical Works and accompanying music
3: Dramatic works and accompanying music
4: Pantomimes and choreographic works
5: Pictures, graphic and sculptural works
6: Motio pictures and audiovisual workjs
7: Sound recordings
8: Architectural works
This law gave protection to any of these works that are fixed in a tangible medium. Publication of the work was no longer required.
It also states that copyright does not protect ideas, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, no matter what form it is described, explained or illustrated in. In short, you can't own ideas.
The rights given to the copyright holder:
1: Right to reproduce
2: To create Derivative works from the original work. (A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”. )
3: The right to sell copies of the work
4: The right to perform or show the work
5: The right to display the work public.
6: The right to perform a sound recording by means of digital audio
Fair use allows people to use the copyrighted work under certain circumstances. There are 4 things that must be considered.
1: Is the purpose and character of the use commercial or educational, transformative or reproductive.
2: The nature of the copyrighted work, is it fictional or factual and how creative is it?
3: How much of the original work is used?
4: How does the fair use effect the market?
This law set the term of copyright to the life of the author plus 50 years after death. Or 75 years dated from publication for anonymouse works, pseudonymous works, and work for hire. Work copyrighted before 1978 was extended 47 years, making the total 78 years.
The copyright term extension act also known as the Sonny Bono Copyright term extension act, or the Mickey Mouse protection act changed the length again to the life of the author plus 70 years. If it is owned by a corporation it is 120 years after creation or 95 years after being published, whichever is first.
It effected all copyrights that were still in affect, that would be any that was created after 1923 would not enter the public domain until at least 2019 or later. It did not bring back copyrights that have already expired.
Mickey Mouse: 1928-2023
Sonny Bono, a congressman, wanted copyright to last forever, but that would be against the constitution. So Jack Valenti proposed forever minus one day. What a cop out. That didn't pass.
Trademark is a sign, design or expression which marks a product or company. It is something that helps identify a brand. The letters TM is for unregistered trademark and a R is for registered trademark.
Trademarks date back to the Roman Empire where blacksmiths marked the swords they made.
The first official Trademark laws were made in France. In the Untied States a trademarks is a form of property. Trademarks can be made in two ways, one is through use, the other through registration of the mark with the trademark office. They are important to keep other companies from fooling people into thinking their projects are the same.
In order to keep the trademark you have to keep using the trademark, if you go about 5 years without using it the trademark lapses. You also have to make sure to enforce the trademark, not doing so will cause you to lose it. That is what the courts consider generic.
At the 5th or 6th anniversary of the registered trademark you have to refile. After that you have to renew every 10 years. Unlike copyrights you can keep a trademark going forever as long as you keep using it.
Monopoly laws or Antitrust laws were put into place to ensure competition in the work place. The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 prohibits companies from owning all of a field. It is more commonly called a competition law in other countires because the point of this law is to keep one company fro getting rid of the competition.
If a company gains a monopoly through merit that is fine but they can't force others out of business. The government has also used this law time after time to keep mergers from taking place if it will hurt the market place, so explain Hollywood.
6 companies own 90% of the media in America.
GE(General Electric) owns: Comcast, NBC, Universal Pictures, Focus Features
News-Corp: Fox, Wall Street Journal, New York Post
Disney: ABC, ESPN, Pixar, Miramax, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm
Viacom: MTV, Nick Jr, BET, CMT, Paramount Pictures
Time Warner: CNN, HBO, Time, Warner Brothers
CBS: Showtime, Smithsonian channel, NFL.com, Jeopardy, 60 minutes
What do we all think of these laws and the fact that the anti-trust law is all but ignored in the current climate?
Do we think the fact that these 6 companies own almost all of the entertainment in The USA affect the way they look at us?
Does it give them too much power?
Now George Lucas owned Star Wars and did with it as he wanted. A great deal of fans took issue with the changes he made in the special editions and what not. So who is in the right? The fans who loved the origin or the creator who wanted to change a story that was his?
In 1991, 8 years after Return of the Jedi, a book named Heir to the Empire came out and got interest in the series back on everyone's mind. It's what turned me into a hardcore fan as well as an avid reader. It also turned the EU from a series of books that added to the Star wars lore to a part of the saga that people loved just as much if not more than the films.
In 1999 the Phantom menace came out. Fans turned on Lucas and tore these 3 movies apart. So who is right? The fans who wanted more of the first movie or Lucas for telling the story he wanted to tell?
Now one theory on why he sold Star Wars was that he was tired of all the hate he got for the prequels. He sold it, but part of the deal was he was a creative consultant on the films. He was then fired from his own series. So who is in the right, The company who bought the series under false terms or the man who sold his ownership?
Under new leadership Star Wars got rid of the EU and started a smear campaign against the old EU and the prequels. Attacking their own fans to better promote the new films, playing on a sense of Nostalgia for the OT.
Now Star Wars isn't the only series that manipulated people with nostalgia. Jurassic World and Creed did as well.
Do we think that nostalgia is a valid story telling tool or a cheap trick to make a quick buck without any real work?
Does Independence Day 2 show the end to this, or just a misstep?
This era of film makers are fan boys, growing up in nerd culture does this affect the movies they make? Is it the reason for all the remakes?
People like JJ Abrams wanting to remake the movies they enjoyed a child with their own stamp?
The Force Awakens, Into darkness
That brings us back to Star Trek. Now as big a fan base as Star Wars has, it pales in comparison to Trekkies. In the 60's when the original series was on the air, NBC tried to cancel the show after the second seasons but the fans came together and fought for the show to continue. They changed the networks mind and got a 3rd season. It was the first time fans had made such a big impact.
Now to be fair Star Trek is the series that wouldn't die, after the pilot was rejected Roddenberry managed to get a second one made and started what we all know to be Star trek.
After the show went off the air it was sold to Paramount who put on reruns and grew the show into a cult hit. This status helped Paramount decide to make the animated series and start work on a spin off called Star trek Phase II, thanks to the success of Star Wars, Paramount turned the pilot of Phase II into a movie, thus bringing the series back to the world in force. While Star Wars was action Star Trek was intellectual. It dealt with heavy themes and social issues, something that sci-fi use to do all the time.
But the system doesn't think that should be the point of films anymore. Chris Pine, the new Kirk himself said
“You can’t make a cerebral Star Trek in 2016. It just wouldn’t work in today’s marketplace. You can hide things in there – Star Trek Into Darkness has crazy, really demanding questions and themes, but you have to hide it under the guise of wham-bam explosions and planets blowing up. It’s very, very tricky. The question that our movie poses is “Does the Federation mean anything?” And in a world where everybody’s trying to kill one another all of the time, that’s an important thing. Is working together important? Should we all go our separate ways? Does being united against something mean anything?”
How do we feel about that?
Is he right?
Could a cerebral Star Trek work in this day and age?
For the longest time Sci-fi was a way to look at our world and talk about issues without being too preachy. Look at the revamped Battlestar Galactica. It dealt with real world issues in a way that let you see them outside of our own politics. Sci-fi, genra television and movies were a way to talk about social issues in a fun and engaging way. That was the whole point of Star Trek. It was why it was created.
So hearing that Kirk 2.0 himself says that isn't what star trek is anymore, that it wouldn't work, does that change how you feel about these movies?
Do you think it shows a lack of respect for the audience?
Do you think that movies, sci-fi and Gerna movies in particular should reflect the world we live in and have a message or just be mindless entertainment?
Star Trek has some of the most hard core fans around. They started the first fan conventions. They turned Klingon into a language that is spoken around the world. There is a Klingon Language Institute. It has grown to the extent that there is a case that is in court now where the copyright on the language is in question since it has grown so far beyond the show. That is due to the fans.
A large part of the fan base has centered around recreating Star Trek, branching out from the show and creating their own versions. In the form of fan films and fan series. Some of the main ones are New Voyages, Of Gods and Men, Renegades. Many of these Series even having cast member from the show involved.
But one fan film changed everything. Axanar. A short film named Prelude to Axanar started a kickstarted to raise $10,000 but made $101,000. To this point Paramount let fans make films as long as they don't make money off of it. They can't sell anything. This caused Alec Peters to go to Kickstarter to make the money for the film. He wanted to follow Prelude to Axanar with a feature film called Axanar.
With help from George Takei the kickstarter made $638,000. In the lawsuit Paramount makes the clam that the film has made about a million dollars and wants to look professional. That isn't acceptable in their eyes.
Peters, who notes he is a lawyer and has licensed other products from CBS, says he asked CBS to give guidelines similar to what Lucasfilm has done for fans of Star Wars, but that CBS/Paramount haven't, in his opinion, "because of fear they are going to give up some rights."
Paramount and CBS gave us this joint statement after the posting of our original article: "Star Trek is a treasured franchise in which CBS and Paramount continue to produce new original content for its large universe of fans. The producers of Axanar are making a Star Trek picture they describe themselves as a fully professional independent Star Trek film. Their activity clearly violates our Star Trek copyrights, which, of course, we will continue to vigorously protect."
Now like with Trademarks, if you don't protect copyrights they fall away. Paramount has let these films be made for 30 years and are just now fighting back. Is this ok?
JJ Abrams said
"A few months back there was a fan film, Axanar, that was getting made and there was this lawsuit that happened between the studio and these fans and...we started talking about it and realized this was not an appropriate way to deal with the fans," Abrams said at a Star Trek Beyond fan event.
"The fans should be celebrating this thing. Fans of Star Trek are part of this world. So [director Justin Lin] went to the studio and pushed them to stop this lawsuit and now, within the next few weeks, it will be announced this is going away, and that fans would be able to continue working on their project."
Does this have an effect on how you think about the case?
Instead of the lawsuit going away Paramount released a two page letter to fans. Page one:
Dear Star Trek fans,
Star Trek fandom is like no other.
Your support, enthusiasm and passion are the reasons that Star Trek has flourished for five decades and will continue long into the future. You are the reason the original Star Trek series was rescued and renewed in 1968, and the reason it has endured as an iconic and multi-generational phenomenon that has spawned seven television series and 13 movies.
Throughout the years, many of you have expressed your love for the franchise through creative endeavors such as fan films. So today, we want to show our appreciation by bringing fan films back to their roots.
The heart of these fan films has always been about expressing one’s love and passion for Star Trek. They have been about fan creativity and sharing unique stories with other fans to show admiration for the TV shows and movies. These films are a labor of love for any fan with desire, imagination and a camera.
We want to support this innovation and encourage celebrations of this beloved cultural phenomenon. It is with this perspective in mind that we are introducing a set of guidelines at Star Trek Fan Films.
Thank you for your ongoing and steadfast enthusiasm and support, which ensure that Star Trek will continue to inspire generations to come.
CBS and Paramount Pictures
The second page:
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:
- See more at: http://www.startrek.com/fan-films#sthash.wzae418z.dpuf
In affect they are ending fan films in the Star Trek universe. The Star Trek actors who work on these are now banned from working on them, The ones that been going for years now must stop. It is a slap to the fans that have kept them going for 50 years.
What do we all think of this?
Is Paramount in the right?
Do fans have a right to play in the sandbox they have helped save time and again?
Does this show a lack of respect towards their fans?
Now just because something is public domain doesn't mean companies can't make money off of it.
Sherlock Holmes is a prime example. He is in the public domain and there are two versions of him in the world right now, both doing well. Is that a good or bad thing?
Tarzan is public domain but the name is trademarked, George of the Jungle was a way around that.
Is that good or bad?
Should people be able to play with others creations as they see fit?
William Shakespeare is public domain, what if he wasn't and all those plays were kept from people. Controlled the way Paramount is trying to control Star Trek. Would that be good or bad?
What role do we think fans should have over the things they love?
Should companies listen to fans or go their own route?
Do we think that the studios respect their fans or look down on them?
Should fans trust the creators to tell their stories?
How much control do the creators have and should they have more?
Almost every fan film organization that makes Star Trek work has called an end to their productions. How do we feel about this?
Welcome to the law I forgot to mention at the start of this. Work for Hire.
Work for Hire is where the person who creates something while working for a company and the company is seen as the creator. My great grandfather did this when he invented Fiberglass paper.
As film makers this is a law that will rule our lives. Every time you make a film or sell a script its a work for hire. In the country you don't own anything.
What do we feel about this?
This is a comic book podcast, its important for us to talk about how this affects the comic book world. Many creators of the characters that we grew up loving died without a cent to their name because of this law. A law that only really stands in the US.
DC comics did everything it could to keep Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster from making money off of Superman and it wasn't till decades later that they even started putting their names on the projects.
Stan Lee is the exception but that is due mostly to his family connection to Martin Goodman and the fact that as Editor and Chief he made himself the public face of Marvel comics. To screw him over would have hurt their bottom line.
Jack Kirby was shit on by both companies until long after his death. A fact proven by Lawrence and Devaghn, both fans of his work, having no idea who he was.
Creators who play in this sandbox often talk about how it is hard to let go of characters they create and watch how they are ruined. Frank Miller has been vocal in his dislike of how Electra has been treated. Timothy Zahn has said that he never cared for how other people wrote Mara Jade, or how he worries about how Grand Admiral Thrawn will be watered down if he is truly brought to Star Wars Rebels.
Bendis tries hard not to let Miles out of his hand, most likely fearing how others will treat him. George R. R. Martin didn't agree to letting HBO make Game of Thrones till he was sure they would follow his vision because far too often the work is bastardized.
What rights do you think the creator of work should have?
Do you think they should be paid or credited for their work?
Until the mid-1970s it was standard policy for comic book publishers to buy all rights in perpetuity upon payment for a single story. Writers and artists received no further payment for their work after that first check -- no money for reprints, no money for toys based on characters they'd created, no money for movies or TV shows or games or trading cards.
Is this right?
Is that a good way to do business?
Starting in the mid-70s DC offered creators an opportunity for what they called "equity participation." With the appropriate paperwork submitted and signed, DC creators would receive a share of the profits generated by their creations.
The problem is, they don't tell the creators when they use the characters. The creator has to find out for themselves.
That isn't the only problem. When DC comics became DC Entertainment, apart of Warners Entertainment, they changed things up. Now any character that DC sees as derivative, is no longer eligible for payment. The creators also had to write a letter to DC in advance of any character showing up on screen ahead of time if they want payment.
How is the creator to know if a TV show or movie uses the character?
Is this fair?
Should DC have the right to act like that?
Should the creators have any rights in this?
The idea that a character is derived from another because they are related, as in Power girl being derived from Superman because they are related and therefor the character belongs wholly to DC is an idea that was shot down when DC comics lost the Superboy lawsuit back in the day. But despite the law telling them they are wrong DC comics has decided to keep with that train of thought. Now, to be fair, I'm sure Marvel isn't any better, I just haven't seen anything talking about anything this horrid from their camp.
What is everyone's thoughts on DC's actions?
Should DC be able to just ignore the courts like that?
Should artist have more rights?
Is DC right?
Get this, DC goes one step farther in their unethical treatment of creators. If someone creates a character, like say Killer Frost, well Al Milgrom and Gerry Conway created the character, or at least the original Killer Frost.
Now Sterling Gates and Derlis Santacruz created Caitlin Snow, the new Killer Frost, but according to DC comics definition of derived works they didn't create her, Al Milgrom and Gerry Conway did. But DC says they didn't create her either, because well they didn't. So DC policy is that no one created her.
That means that characters like Jason Todd, Barry Allen and the likes are created out of thin air.
Is that fair?
Does that even make sense?
How can that be justified?
What about when the company makes the project with the creator and then fires them?
Eric Kripke made Supernatural. He told WB he wanted to do a five season show to tell a story and they agreed. When the five years were up and he wanted the show to end they kept going with out him. It was his creation but they didn't give a damn about his wishes.
Is that ok?
How about Joss Whedon writing Buffy only to have the director of the film change everything?
How about the hundreds of examples of creators selling an idea and then being fired off of their own project?
Is that ok?
Who should have the right to determine a story? The creator, the fans or the companies?
What is legally the right thing, what is morally the right thing? And what matters more?
Do you think the internet and things like file sharing have an effect on the way entertainment is created?
Game of Thrones is one of the most downloaded torrents in the history of file sharing and the two creators, of the show not George R R Martin, have different views on it. One thinks it is great because it gets people watching and helps the buzz grow. He feels like Kevin Smith, that if someone torrents it and likes it they might be more likely to buy it later on, or pay to see them live, or buy merch. In short it creates more fans.
The other creator, like Kurt Sutter, the creator of Sons of Anarchy, feels that it is theft pure and simple and nothing good comes from it.
Who do you think is right?
Do you think it matters any more?
Do you think studios breaking away from Netflix and Hulu and putting their shows on pay to watch channels like the new CBS app, which is the only way to watch the new Star Trek show, will make torrents the more preferred way to watch TV or do you think people will pay for each channel's website?
Do you think the internet and independent film makers and content creators can move us away from the studio system?
In the end, who do you side with? The Corporations, the creators or the fans?