Since its launch in 1966, Star Trek has inspired intense devotion from generations of fans with five live-action television series spanning 50 years and a sixth set to launch in 2017. And this month's release of Star Trek Beyond, helmed by Fast and Furious director Justin Lin, will mark the franchise's 13th feature film.
And that's just the official Star Trek product. From almost the very beginning, Star Trek inspired creativity amongst Trek fans.
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry expressed deep gratitude for the fans and encouraged their work, once writing this in the foreword to Star Trek: The New Voyages, a compilation of fan-written stories:
It is now a source of great joy for me to see their view of Star Trek, their new Star Trek stories, reaching professional publication here. I want to thank these writers, congratulate them on their efforts, and wish them good fortune on these and further of their voyages into other times and dimensions.
Fan-created stories, comic books, and art soon evolved into fan-made film and video productions. There was the carpet layer from Michigan who spent $2,000 to build a replica of the Starship Enterprise bridge and produced Paragon's Paragon, one of the first serious Star Trek fan films, in 1974. In 1985, a fan convinced George Takei, who played Sulu on the original series, to reprise the role in Yorktown: A Time to Heal. In subsequent years, putting original cast members in fan production became increasingly common, with Walter Koenig ("Chekov") and Nichelle Nichols ("Uhura") starring in the 2007 feature length film Star Trek: Of Gods and Men.
"The fan films were just getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger," says Jonathan Lane, creator of the Fan Film Factor, a blog dedicated to analyzing and promoting Star Trek fan films.
And the whole time, Paramount and CBS, the Star Trek rights holders, took a tolerant, hands-off approach so long as the films didn't portray Star Trek in a negative or obscene light. That all changed with Prelude to Axanar, a professionally shot, produced, and acted short fan film that received almost 2.5 million views on YouTube. The success of Prelude to Axanar allowed writer-producer Alec Peters to raise more than $1 million through crowdfunding sites Kickstarter and Indiegogo. They snagged Richard Hatch, who played Captain Apollo in the orginal Battlestar Galactica, to play their antagonist. Suddenly, Axanar looked less like a benign fan film and more like competition.
Peters and his team claim that fan films do nothing but promote the Star Trek brand and say that Axanar is covered by the Fair Use clause, which allows for use of copyrighted work when that use is "transformative." Watch the video above to hear arguments both from the Axanar cast and crew and CBS and to learn a bit more about the history of Star Trek fan films and Fair Use.