AXANAR SPAM Just four of the dozens of repeated posts by Alec Peters removed by Kickstarter from Axanar’s own page for violating the crowdfunder’s no-spamming policy. Photo/Kickstarter

Fact Check

Kickstarter Deletes Axanar Spam, Peters Suspends Refunds

Also: Peters Continues Attack on AxaMonitor, Props Up Surrogate’s Blog

By Carlos Pedraza

UPDATE After dozens of his posts were deleted from Axanar’s crowdfunding page on November 22, 2016, producer Alec Peters blamed “malcontents” who complained to Kickstarter for ending his largesse in granting refunds to those willing to sign non-disclosure agreements.

PUT UP AND SHUT UP Axanar producer Alec Peters refunds backers, effectively silencing their complaints on Kickstarter’s comment boards.

Spamming Kickstarter

Peters had taken to spamming his Kickstarter’s comment section with dozens repeated posts, pushing his backers’ questions and criticism down the screen, effectively silencing critics by making their comments difficult to see by any casual visitor to the page.

Kickstarter deleted his spam after complaints from backers like Eric Berry, who told Kickstarter:

The creator [Peters] is currently engaged in a lawsuit with CBS/Paramount. Backers are concerned and asking questions, but the creator of the project is trying to bury comments by posting spam and insulting backers.1)

Forced Refunds Silence Critics

Peters forcibly refunded three of his most ardent critics, telling them:

I have refunded the three of you. Now here is the deal: I am going to refund the other 3 of your little group of malcontents and some others who want their money back. But if any of you post about these refunds or go tell [AxaMonitor editor] Carlos Pedraza, or whoever, the refunds will stop. If you want to be assholes and try and embarrass me and Axanar I will make it very clear that you three ruined it for everyone.2)
DON’T ASK DON’T TELL Despite his official ‘no refund’ policy, Axanar producer Alec Peters once offered money back to complaining donors so long as they never talked about Axanar again.

Blaming Backers

One Kickstarter backers asked Peters’ how far he was willing to go to silence critics:

Are you going to give all of us unasked for refunds to keep us from posting here? Why do you keep breaking the spamming rules? Why do you not want people asking questions or discussing the project with each other?3)

Peters followed through on his threat to Berry, going on to post multiple times who was to blame for him no longer offering refunds:

Let me be clear, I tried to be nice, I tried to accomodate people who seem to have nothing better to spew lies and hate and bullshit. But they proved incapable of acting like adults. Eric Berry, Armsman and Glen Hine, like Sandy Greenberg before them, have proven that I cannot give refunds. We tried and you ruined it. Case closed.4)

Mollifying Donors

Weeks before, despite adamant public refusals to grant refunds to donors disillusioned by delays in perks delivery and Axanar‘s production, Peters had quietly offered grease to the squeaky wheels who wanted their money back — on condition they say nothing bad about him or the production.

In early October 2016, Peters tried to address growing dissatisfaction by donors in the production’s Kickstarter and Indiegogo comment sections by:

Refunds Refused

Some donors weren’t buying it: “Send me my refund. Thanks,” James Gwinnell asked Peters after he tried to get donors to read about Axanar’s lawsuit on the blog Peters called “the only legitimate news source on the Axanar lawsuit online.” Gwinnell asked again, “Can you refund my $75?”

« AxaMonitor is run by a cyber stalker who has never said one good thing about Axanar. »Alec Peters, Axanar producer

Peters instead told his Kickstarter donors:

I am sorry, but since we are still working on this project, there are no refunds. As to this stupid nonsense that we have made a for-profit studio, I suggest you actually read what we post rather than believing everything you read on the Internet.5)

Myths. Busted.

Peters gave readers a link to a March post on the Axanar blog supposedly debunking myths about Axanar.

True or False?

PARTLY TRUE Still Working on Axanar. Though no actual work was happening on Axanar, Peters contended that the lawsuit had made it untenable to proceed with production. He hoped a court victory or settlement will allow him to move forward with the film. Of course, the decision to not issue refunds may have to do with how much Axanar must pay for rent, utilities, salaries, etc., each month. Each passing month reduced the money Peters would have on hand to eventually produce Axanar.

BUSINESS WEBSITE The commercial studio Alec Peters said is not a business has opened for business. Photo/industrystudios.la

FALSE Axanar Myths. AxaMonitor examined the myths Peters said he had debunked, disputing his claims that Axanar:

  • Is not trying to make money (it’s a for-profit corporation).
  • Did not build a commercial studio using donor money that it planned to rent to other productions (it has opened for business).
  • Was the subject of a lawsuit that was about money (CBS and Paramount explicitly condemned Axanar as a commercial enterprise that aimed to take money from Star Trek fans).

Refunds Offered

Despite the official line that he would issue no refunds, Peters had in fact offered or given refunds to complaining donors, hoping they would end their public criticism of him. Donor Tom Ryan told Peters:

« By accepting a refund you agree to not disclose said refund nor discuss Axanar in any media, including Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. »Axanar Non-Disclosure Agreement

Your attacks on the people who paid for your studio and salary are sad. I want a refund. You have violated [intellectual property] law by making money off of an IP without licensing or permission. You misled backers by stating the project DID have CBS/Paramount’s approval.6)

In response, Peters emailed Ryan with an offer:

For your information, no one is making a profit off of Axanar and I have put over $100,000 of my own money into the project. Every single dime raised has gone into making this film. Sorry you are unhappy, but read our website before making comments with no basis in fact.

BTW, if you want a refund, I am happy to give you one. You just need to sign an NDA [non-disclosure agreement] and non-disparagement agreement. If you are OK with that, I will send it to you.7)

Non-Disclosure Agreement

NON-DISCLOSURE This document is what Peters wants donors to sign before he will issue them refunds. (Download Word file)

Peters emailed the legal agreement to Ryan, saying:

Please sign the attached document and scan it and return it along with your PayPal address and we will refund your money. Unfortunately because of one donor who felt that even after being refunded his money he could slander Axanar, we are required by our attorneys to have this non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreement signed before giving a refund.8)

The form Peters wanted Ryan to sign, “Confidential Non-Disclosure Agreement and Non Disparagement,” would have prevented Ryan from revealing he had received a refund at all, and went even further:

By accepting a refund for your donation, you agree to not disclose said refund nor discuss Axanar in any media, including but not limited to social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. …

Any disclosure by you … regarding Axanar or this refund will cause irreparable harm to Axanar Productions Inc, and shall entitle [Axanar] to damages in the amount of $5,000 per occurrence.9)
DONORS SPAMMED An excerpt from the Propworx auction ad emailed to Axanar donors.

Ryan was not moved:

Not signing shit. If you still refuse to give me my money after [I refused] to sign this we will see how that goes with your backers.10)

Peters gave it one more try:

I am being very nice and offering you a refund when we are under no obligation to from Kickstarter. If you are more interested in causing trouble than getting a refund, then you prove the point of the NDA. I have spent 2 1/2 years working for no money on this project. I have put in almost $150,000 of my own money. Sorry you feel so cheated.11)

FACT CHECK is an AxaMonitor series examining claims made with regard to the Axanar case, chiefly Alec Peters’ blog posts, interviews and public announcements. Read the series »

Forced Silence

However, facing mounting criticism on his Kickstarter’s comment boards, Peters appeared to give up on requiring NDAs in favor of silencing complaining donors by forcibly refunding them, which Kickstarter spokesman Justin Kazmark stated means they lose their privilege to post comments:

As our Terms indicate, creators can cancel and refund a backer’s pledge at any time. Any user who the backer refunds should get an email indicating as much. It’s not uncommon for creators to face obstacles as they work to bring their projects to life. As creators continue to work toward their goal, we encourage transparency along the way.12)
BE QUIET One donor received this unrequested refund after publicly sparring with Axanar producer Alec Peters. The refund ends the donor’s ability to post comments on Axanar’s Kickstarter page. (click image to view full size)

On October 20, 2016, donor Jason Kovalik received a refund he did not request after exchanging public comments with Peters regarding a third party spamming Axanar's donor mailing list with an advertisement for a props auction:

So this [refund] happened. … Please note, I did not sign anything NDA or what not. This was done, I suspect, because I was challenging Alec in the comments of the Kickstarter about his claims that Axanar didn’t spam their donor list for Propworx, compared to Mike Bawden’s comments saying it was inappropriate.13)

Shifting Donation Amounts

Similarly, the discussion on the Kickstarter comments section included Peters’ declaration that he had contributed profits from a September 2016 auction held by another company he owns, Propworx, to Axanar. That followed donors’ complaints that their Axanar-related email addresses had been provided to Propworx to advertise its auction. Peters stated:

For the record, no one gave anyone’s [email] info to a third party. That is a lie. The email about the Propworx Star Trek auction was sent out from the Axanar Productions Constant Contact account as Propworx is my company and the auction was a fundraiser for Axanar. I donated over $35,000 from that auction to Axanar.

True or False?

FALSE No Refunds. Despite the official line, and by Peters’ own admission, Axanar has offered refunds to donors who criticized him and/or Axanar loudly and publicly.

DUBIOUS On Advice of Counsel. Peters’ claim that his lawyers’ required him to get non-disclosure/disparagement agreements from anyone to whom he gives a refund is unsubstantiated. Moreover, it’s not clear why the attorneys representing him in a copyright case would get involved with unrelated refund disputes, nor in what way they could compel a client to take such a stance. Former Axanar chief technologist Terry McIntosh, scheduled to be deposed by the studios suing Peters for copyright infringement, explained the more likely reason for the non-disparagement form Peters required to obtain a refund:

Alec is surely terrified of people telling the truth about Axanar, and especially under oath and armed with documentation to support it, so that makes it a good thing. The truth, whatever that might be, will be known and if it’s submitted in a deposition then it has a good chance of becoming public through the official record. Alec won’t be able to call people liars once they’ve gone through the court process and if Alec doesn’t want that then I, and others, absolutely do want it. He wouldn’t be asking for donors to sign non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements in exchange for their money back otherwise.14)

DUBIOUS ‘My Own Money’. Peters has often made claims about putting his own money into the Axanar project, always without substantiation, and with a constantly changing amount. He first told Ryan his personal contribution was $100,000; in a later email the same day, the amount had ballooned to $150,000. Also, the plaintiffs in Axanar’s lawsuit, based on examination of an audit of Axanar’s books, claim Peters personally financially benefited from his production, through his salary, paid travel expenses and personal expenses.

SHIFTING AMOUNT of auction profits Alec Peters claims to have “donated” to Axanar.

DUBIOUS Auction Profits. Peters appeared to be making the argument that it was all right for his other company, Propworx, to have spammed the Axanar donor mailing list because proceeds from its auction went to Axanar. In his Kickstarter post, Peters claimed he gave $35,000. But earlier, he reported the amount was only $20,000:

My company Propworx donated the entire profit from yesterday’s auction to Axanar. That was over $20,000. That is me, Alec, donating over $20,000 to Axanar.15)

FALSE No Spam. If in fact the Propworx advertisement emailed to Axanar donors did not constitute spamming, then why did Axanar spokesman Mike Bawden admit the error? “I’ve raised my concerns with Alec about this,” he said. “There are right ways and wrong ways to go about using email solicitations to stay compliant with the [anti-spam] CAN-SPAM regulations and in my opinion, this wasn’t the right way to do it.”16) Bawden went on to say:

I’ve briefed everyone involved in this incident as to what was done wrong, the possible ramifications of violating the CAN-SPAM rules and established that any further use of the Axanar Donors list for email communication needs to be discussed with everyone on the team. I’ve been given assurances that what happened was a mistake and won’t happen again.17)

MOSTLY FALSE Axanar Fundraiser. Peters’ claim that the Propworx auction was an Axanar fundraiser is not even borne out by Propworx’s email. Nowhere in the advertisement does Propworx state the event was a fundraiser for Axanar, even though the email was spammed to the donors’ mailing list.18)

Peters had made a passing statement on a Facebook post about “a portion of the proceeds” going to Axanar, but that portion was never specified. Only in retrospect did he claim “all” the profits went to Axanar, and then changed the amount from $20,000 to $35,000.19)

'Cyberstalker'

Meanwhile, as more Kickstarter backers took issue with Peters’ promotion of the Fan Film Factor blog as the only legitimate source of Axanar lawsuit news, Peters stepped up his attacks on AxaMonitor, calling our reporting of the Propworx email spam “a lie.”

AxaMonitor is run by a cyber stalker who has never said one good thing about Axanar. Only a moron would think it is unbiased. Fan Film Factor is the ONLY unbiased source and the only one that has actual lawyers consulting, not the armchair lawyer crap [AxaMonitor] publishes.20)

Keywords

7)
Alec Peters emails to Thomas Ryan, 10/6/16.
8) , 11)
Alec Peters email to Thomas Ryan, 10/6/16.
9)
Axanar Productions, “Confidential Non-Disclosure Agreement and Non Disparagement,” emailed by Alec Peters to Thomas Ryan, 10/6/16.
10)
Thomas Ryan email to Alec Peters, 10/6/16.
12)
Email from Justin Kazmark to AxaMonitor editor Carlos Pedraza, 10/11/16.
15)
Alec Peters private Facebook message to David Sturm, 9/11/16.
16)
Mike Bawden email to AxaMonitor editor Carlos Pedraza, 9/10/16.
17)
Mike Bawden email to AxaMonitor editor Carlos Pedraza, 9/12/16.
18)
Jarrod Hunt email from Propworx to Axanar donors, 9/9/16.