The Public Interest Behind Private Guidelines Talks

By Carlos Pedraza
AxaMonitor editor
June 2, 2016

AxaMonitor‘s disclosure May 27, 2016, that Axanar producer Alec Peters had called together representatives from eight different fan productions to create a set of fan film guidelines appeared to have caused quite a stir in the community, with words like “leak” and “betrayal” bandied about.

The questions many are asking are valid ones, given that the names of fan producers were disclosed, and this added to the controversy over Peters’ efforts to negotiate a favorable settlement to the lawsuit against him.

Peters and his supporters have made a big deal of identifying the source as a traitor to the cause of fan films — going so far as to falsely name someone — and forgetting that I didn’t get information from just one person who was aware of the secret discussions.

The uncomfortable reality Peters won’t face is that many of the people he was trying to rally behind his negotiation effort have a problem with that effort, as they (and still other fan productions) loudly proclaimed this week.

Discussions like these should be held out in the open by people with diverse perspectives, not in the shadows by eight people hand-picked by the subject of a lawsuit with a financial interest in its outcome.

Consequently, I believe readers deserve to know what factors I weighed in reporting this story:


I tread carefully when deciding whether to publish confidential information, provided by sources to whom I promise anonymity.

Among the news media I have worked for as a reporter is The Associated Press, the world’s largest news-gathering organization, and I continue to use their sensible guidelines with regard to the use of information from anonymous sources:

Transparency is critical to our credibility with the public. … Whenever possible, we pursue information on the record. When a newsmaker insists on background or off-the-record ground rules, we must adhere to a strict set of guidelines. … Under AP’s rules, material from anonymous sources may be used only if:

1. The material is information and not opinion or speculation, and is vital to the news report.
2. The information is not available except under the conditions of anonymity imposed by the source.
3. The source is reliable, and in a position to have accurate information.1)

These guidelines, clearly in the public interest as I describe below, would likely never have come out, except as a finished product to be used by Peters to pursue settling a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, bolstered with proposed guidelines carrying the imprimatur of the fan film community.

SUSPENDS PRODUCTION The long-running Star Trek: Intrepid suspended production in the wake of the Axanar lawsuit and uncertainty over production guidelines. Pictured: Producer, writer and star Nick Cook (left) and co-star Michael Cugley.

Vested Interest

Alec Peters portrayed his draft guidelines as something for the good of all Star Trek fan films, yet the challenge he faces up front are the terms under which to settle the lawsuit brought against him by CBS and Paramount. These are terms by which he and his company have a direct financial interest in the outcome of pending litigation.

As a journalist, screenwriter and former fan film producer (Star Trek: New Voyages, Star Trek: Hidden Frontier), it’s very clear to me that Peters’ self-interest and those of fan film producers, which may overlap in some areas, diverge in other very important ways.

Private Interests

But why reveal the names of the productions involved in Peters’ private Facebook chat?

“Why would you ever post anything from Alec without asking the productions themselves?” asked Justin Burton of the fan film, The Lexington Adventures.

I wasn’t interested in naming names because their identities weren’t central to the story; in fact, the first version of my article named no one involved. The point of the story was to note that the participation of other fan films might be construed as supporting Peters in his litigation against CBS and Paramount.

It’s clear that Alec Peters’ and Axanar’s interests diverge from the interests of other fan films.

Ahead of my publication, I had asked Axanar’s spokespeople for a comment from Peters. Rather, Peters went to a supportive blogger to publish his guidelines, along with the names of the participants, ostensibly in order to bolster his credibility. Unfortunately for Peters, his attempt backfired. That made his revelations of the names newsworthy, so I published them.

To Axanar supporters, AxaMonitor ruined whatever chance fan films had to have their voices heard by CBS and Paramount — so long as the anointed messenger was Alec Peters. In reality, according to sources connected with CBS, the studio was already well aware of Peters’ effort to rally the other productions behind him, and didn’t think much of the effort or anyone who joined in it.

More importantly, however, I believe there is a larger public interest in discussing guidelines for fan productions.

The Public Interest

The ramifications of whatever guidelines CBS or Paramount eventually impose of fan films will extend far beyond Star Trek. In the continuing absence of any case law regarding whether fan works fall under the fair use provisions of copyright law, these guidelines may be the only template any other copyright holder may use to justify how they deal with fan works.

“CBS’s fan film guidelines, whatever shape they take, are going to have far-reaching effects, beyond both the fan film community as well as the Star Trek fandom,” said Shanna Gilkeson, a Bowling Green State University Ph.D. student in media and communications studying fandom, in an interview with AxaMonitor.

PH.D. STUDENT Shanna Gilkeson points out the effects of CBS’ guidelines may extend far beyond just Star Trek fan films.

Other Fans' Interests

“CBS is well aware that other forms of participatory fandom exist, such as fan fiction and fan art, all of which have been tolerated along with fan films until now,” she said. “The guidelines they design will likely include language that extends to fan fiction, fan art, and other types of fan production.” She added:

In the unlikely event that the language of the guidelines only applies to fan films, they still set a precedent for dealing with fan works and can be used as a template for regulating all forms of Star Trek fan production.

Beyond Star Trek

Gilkeson further points out that such issues aren’t limited to just CBS and Star Trek:

Other fandoms have occasionally tangled with their IP owners in the past — Lucasfilm targeted fanzines in the 80s, and within the last decade Warner Brothers tried to shut down a Harry Potter fan site run by a 15-year-old girl. In both these cases and others, IP owners have eventually backed down for various reasons. In some cases, they decided that legal costs outweighed the “damage” they perceived from the fan works. In others, IP owners were aware that taking action against a fan would appear disproportionately heavy-handed in a climate where fan productions are generally tolerated. In any case, CBS’s guidelines also set a precedent for other IP owners, as they will now have a template for dealing with their own fandoms.

Open Forums

Consequently, I believed discussions like these should be held out in the open by people with diverse interests and perspectives. They should not be discussed in the shadows of a private Facebook chat by eight people hand-picked by the subject of a major copyright infringement suit who has a vested financial interest in the public perception of the outcome of litigation. The guidelines deserve to be discussed in the light of day.