For only the second time this century, CBS has been forced to issue a cease and desist notice to a fan who was playing in the Star Trek sandbox. This time, however, it wasn’t a fan film but a virtual reality game, set aboard the galaxy class U.S.S. Enterprise-D.
On September 25, head of project Rob Bryan posted a video detailing the end of his team’s production and how their hand was forced by CBS. “…We knew we could be shut down at any point” Rob noted in the video.
In the proceeding six days, the now-usual rhetoric of Star Trek belongs to the fans and CBS should respect us all has come to the fore with significant force – petitions have gone up on change.org, videos have been posted on YouTube and comments are flying thick and fast on Facebook groups and Reddits. But what actually has transpired? All that is certain is that the metaphorical threshold between where the benevolent eye was watching to where the eye reacts must’ve been crossed. However, to Rob’s credit he and development team have actually heeded the C&D and downed tools.
This threshold could’ve been tripped by any number of reasons – from Ubisoft’s VR license for games, using actor’s likenesses for NPC’s and soliciting donations for continued development. Lets break them down one at a time:
While some commentators on Facebook concede that Ubisoft are the license holder for Virtual Reality gaming, including their 2017 release Bridge Crew, they argue that this VR project is not a game because there are no objectives to achieve and no advancing story line. However, according to the Oxford dictionary, a game can be defined as:
An activity that one engages in for amusement or fun.
A definition this clearly fits into – and a definition where there is clearly no getting around. An individual will most likely have “fun” while experiencing this project.
USING ACTOR’S LIKENESSES
Earlier this year, Sam Cockings received a warning regarding his fan film Temporal Anomaly which used clips from TNG featuring the senior staff as a brief way of progressing the plot line in the trailer. This and possibly Stage9’s use are inappropriate because the actors wouldn’t receive royalties or remuneration for their “appearance” – therefore, as well as using copyrighted material (in the clip itself, or the actor in that uniform and at that station) both productions faced dilemmas for using real actors.
Perhaps the Stage9 team should’ve used themselves as templates? Or friends?
Here’s the largest grey area in every fandom in existence. The desire to be paid to produce a product in the universe you hold so dear. From fan fiction to fan films, from works of art to podcasts… it all hinges on the copyrighted and trademarked universe created by a team of individuals hired by the studios. At the end of the day, for cast and crew alike, working on these shows is just a job – whether they love, like or hate it… it is just a job.
It only becomes an obsession for the fans and when a show has been continuing for 51 years you are bound to get some very passionate fans. Fans that think Star Trek (for example) owes them more than what they are receiving. Enter the other group of fans – even a subset of those very passionate fans – who have the ability to create their own slice of Star Trek (for example) but they desire to be compensated for it.
Alec Peters’ supporters (and one-time donors) thought he was so worthy they gave him $1.7 million, but he burnt them all by trying to turn a profit in a warehouse-turned-studio and when that failed and he was sued, he fought the franchise owners, settled and fled to Georgia where he is still yet to make the 30 minute films that CBS have allowed him to make.
Other creators and producers openly solicit PayPal donations to keep their works afloat – from Trek.fm to Lee Sargent, Trekyards and so on. It clearly is not a problem in the small doses that these folks are achieving, and I think we can include Rob and his team on this list.
So what then has spurred CBS into action? I don’t think we’ll ever know the real reason. But one thing is certain, Stage9 had a great run, had great potential but now it’s over. All Good Things indeed…
I’ve reached out to Rob to have A Trekzone Conversation, as at the time of publication I’m still waiting to hear back.