Rough Theory

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Category Archives: Intellectual Property

Star Trek: The Net Generation

I just noticed a New York Times article (free registration required) on Star Trek fans creating their own digital video versions of the show. I initially thought the article was going to describe one-off, You-tube-style fan projects, but many of the projects cited are major (if volunteer) ongoing productions. One (Star Trek: Hidden Frontiers) is now into its seventh season. Another (New Voyages) has attracted sufficient download traffic to tempt Walter Koenig and George Takei into its productions, and has also received scripts from writers who contributed to previous Star Trek series. Any old trekkies out there looking for a break from grading might enjoy some of the following sites:

Star Trek: New Voyages – This series starts from the point when the original series was cancelled, casting new actors in the roles of the Enterprise crew. It focusses on authenticity of props, sets and costumes, and has attracted support from some writers and actors associated with the series. Several episodes are currently available for download.

Star Trek: Hidden Frontier – Now in its seventh (and apparently final) season, this series involves the adventures of a new crew in what I gather is a post-DS9 time frame. The series is a publicly-available spinoff from an earlier production called the Voyages of the USS Angeles, which was produced for cast and crew only, and is therefore not (officially, at least – I haven’t personally looked) available on the net.

Star Trek: Intrepid – This Scottish production has released some trailers, outtakes and stills, and has apparently moved into the editing stage. It follows a Federation starship sent to protect a distant and isolated colony.

Starship Exeter – Set in the timeframe of the original series, this production follows the adventures of a different Starfleet crew. This project hopes to convince Paramount that a new series, set in the context of the original, would be a viable commercial project. A couple of titles are currently available for download.

Starship Farragut – Another series set in the timeline of the original, and following a different starship and crew. Trailer and teasers are available for download, with the pilot and first episode scheduled for release in following months.

Trekkie nostalgia aside, I find these productions interesting for the delicate balance required to sustain them, while trying not to antagonise the copyright holder.

The Star Trek: Hidden Frontier site Copyright FAQ highlights this tension:

Hidden Frontier has taken great care to assert that we are in no way attempting to infringe upon Paramount’s copyright and trademark rights with respect to Star Trek. Hidden Frontier makes no money, solicits no funding, and makes no Paramount-produced copyrighted material publicly available in high-resolution or -quality formats that would impinge on Paramount’s ability to continue to make money from their trademark and ownership of Star Trek.

So far, Paramount has generously elected not to take any action to ask us to cease and desist our efforts, though we acknowledge they have the right to do so at any time. We have attempted to remain true to Star Trek’s spirit, and we hope our efforts help to maintain Star Trek’s fan base and commercial viability for Paramount Pictures in the future.

The Starship: Farragut site contains a similar disclosure:

Starship Farragut has taken great care to assert that they are in no way attempting to infringe upon CBS Studios Inc. copyright and trademark rights with respect to Star Trek. Starship Farragut is free for you to download and distribute for private, non-commercial viewing. However be aware that Starship Farragut is fully protected by Federal and State Copyright Law. Unauthorized tampering, altering, or creating of derivative works from the show, or any images or audio contained therein is strictly prohibited and subject to civil and criminal penalties under the law. DO NOT make copies and sell them. If the producers, cast and crew can’t make money from the show, neither should you! IF YOU FIND ANY OF STARSHIP FARRAGUT EPIOSDES FOR SALE or RENT ANYWHERE, WHAT YOU HAVE FOUND IS AN ILLEGAL COPY! Star Trek®, Star Trek: The Next Generation®, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine®, Star Trek: Voyager®, Star Trek Enterprise® and all associated marks and characters are registered trademarks of CBS Studios Inc. All rights reserved. The use of anything related to “Star Trek” on any of these web sites is not meant to be an infringement on CBS Studios Inc. property rights to “Star Trek.”

While it’s good that these productions – which are clearly labour-of-love efforts from devoted admirers of the commercial series – have been allowed to proceed, I’ll take the passing opportunity to say that I find it generally unfortunate that fan fiction and other non-commercial creative products have to tread such a careful line. The right to improvise around works that have inspired us, with a clear acknowledgement of the extent of our intellectual and artistic debt, seems like a right worth interpreting expansively…

I also can’t help thinking of the contrast between the potentials obviously embodied in the technologies – some of the special effects have been executed remarkably well, and the ability to film these productions on donated time and funds speaks as much to the lowering cost of amateur film production, as it does to the devotion of the fans – and the social/legal restrictions on these potentials. Regular readers will know I’m not a fan of the faith that technology drives social change – of the conviction that a tension between potentials embodied in technology, and social restrictions on the use of technology, will always and inevitably be resolved in favour of technological potential. This doesn’t prevent me, though, from being fascinated by the contrast between what we can do (technically), and what we (collectively) allow ourselves to do.