Poking a Sleeping Tiger in the Eye?

Lately, fanficcers seem intent on testing how far they can claim "ownership" of their work before the authors/rights-holders of the original media properties take legal action (just look at the Organization for Transformative Works or the Rowling dispute).

But now there is a new wrinkle. For many years now, a group of ardent STAR TREK fans have been producing STAR TREK: THE NEW VOYAGES (aka STAR TREK: PHASE II), their own, hour-long version of the original series. Original cast members like George Takei and Walter Koenig have "guest-starred" on the web-broadcast episodes and FX experts from the various "real" STAR TREK series have donated their talents to the project. So far, Viacom/Paramount has turned a blind eye to the project, presumably since it’s a "fan production" and nobody has tried to make any money off of it.

That could change.

I just got my 2007 Nebula ballot from the Science Fiction Writers of America and among the movies & TV shows vying for the Script award is "World Enough and Time," an episode of STAR TREK: THE NEW VOYAGES written by Marc Scott Zicree & Michael Reeves that "aired" on 8/23/07.

Here’s the problem. The  Nebula Rules state that to be eligible for the award that it must be "a professionally produced audio, radio,
television, motion picture, multimedia, or theatrical script."
But the fans behind STAR TREK: NEW VOYAGES have claimed repeatedly that what they are doing absolutely isn’t a professional production, it’s just for fun, the video equivalent of fanfic:

cost of the production is being paid out of pocket by the producers/crew. Yes,
it is expensive, but we’re fortunate to have many talented people donate their
time and money for a worthy cause and a once in a lifetime trip around the
galaxy! We in no way make money from this show and we all volunteer our time,
effort and our own money to bring these shows to the internet. If you desire to
help us in that capacity, please see "How can I donate" below

[…]Due to copyrights, there are no stations broadcasting our episodes.
Star Trek: Phase II is a web-series. The episodes are available for
ANYWHERE, WHAT YOU HAVE FOUND IS AN ILLEGAL COPY. We cannot and do not make any money from the episodes. We ask you to inform us if you find anyone selling our work.

If they are now claiming to be a professionally-produced program, it puts their "fan" status in doubt…especially if they are now hiring writers…and it could bring Viacom/Paramount crashing down on them.

There’s no question that all the other nominees in the Script category were paid for their screenplays. The inclusion of the script by Zicree & Reeves among the nominees (CHILDREN OF MEN, THE  PRESTIGE, PAN’S LABRYNTH, etc.) suggests that they were paid for their work, too. If they were, that’s a big no-no… and would also seriously undermine the claims by the producers of STAR TREK: NEW VOYAGES that they are just doing the Internet equivalent of putting on a show in the barn for their friends.

It will be interesting to see what happens next.  Could Zicree & Reeves’ submission of their script for a Nebula spell the end of STAR TREK: NEW VOYAGES…?

UPDATE:  I’m not plugged in to the SF scene so I had no idea that a controversy about this was already raging. See the comments section for statements from Marc Scott Zicree, who says he was paid for the script so it’s a professional job, and ST:NV producer/star James Cawley, who emphatically maintains that his show is not a professional production and should not have been nominated. It will be interesting to see how this affects the future of ST:NV, not just with Paramount but with SAG, DGA, and WGA…

7 thoughts on “Poking a Sleeping Tiger in the Eye?”

  1. I’m a SFWA member, but am not speaking for SFWA. However, this is considered a solved problem within SFWA. (Incidentally, your understanding of the connection between Paramount and NEW VOYAGES is incomplete; indeed Paramount actually borrowed sets from NV!).
    Here’s the statement SFWA earlier this month:
    “World Enough and Time,” a script written by Marc Zicree and Michael Reaves for Star Trek: New Voyages, appeared on the Final Nebula Ballot. The eligibility of the work was immediately challenged by more than one member, on the basis of two assertions: that WEaT was a fan production and so could not be a “professional production” as required by the SFWA Award Rules; and that it was an unauthorized production that violated the trademarks and/or copyrights of the Paramount Corporation.
    SFWA took these challenges seriously, even though they were made at the very last minute, and the Nebula ballot had already been delayed. The procedures described in the Nebula Rules were followed to the letter. The decision of the SFWA Awards Rules Committee (SARC) was appealed to the SFWA Board of Directors. Under a very tight deadline, the Board examined these questions and voted unanimously to keep the work on the Nebula ballot.
    The decision was based on evidence that was provided from a number of sources, and we thank the parties who made statements and provided additional information to the Board. Since the term “professionally produced” is nowhere defined in the Award Rules, there is some latitude for interpretation. However, certain precedents had been set by the SARC, and they were followed by the Board insofar as they were applicable. It was noted that the spirit of the Nebulas is one of inclusiveness, and that none of the other Nebula categories include the “professionally produced” criterion.
    One factor that was considered important was that Marc Zicree and Michael Reaves were paid for their script of “Worlds Enough and Time.” Other factors were looked at, and, in at least one instance, it was concluded that the production only qualified under a technicality, but the technicality was in keeping with past interpretations of the Award Rules.
    The status of WEaT vis-a-vis Paramount is complex, and there are a lot of misconceptions about it. It is clear from our investigation that Paramount has permitted WEaT to exist and encouraged its production and that of subsequent productions by the same company. This is not simply a fan production that was tolerated by Paramount; while it may or may not have been specifically authorized, it has had tacit authorization. Under these circumstances, the Board felt that WEaT should be given the benefit of the doubt and allowed on the ballot.

  2. “One factor that was considered important was that Marc Zicree and Michael Reaves were paid for their script of “Worlds Enough and Time.”
    Interesting! I found a statement from Marc Scott Zicree, who writes:
    “As to any rumors regarding STAR TREK NEW VOYAGES being unpaid and thus unprofessional, in several key and vital areas payments were made. Michael Reaves and I were paid for the script of “World Enough and Time” by James Cawley through his production company, Cawley Entertainment Company, prior to production. We negotiated a contract with James which was under WGA rules, as both Michael and I are members of the Writers Guild, as well as SFWA. In addition, my contract was under DGA guidelines, as I was also the director of the piece.
    Beyond this, George Takei was paid to star in the episode. This was under a SAG contract negotiated with George’s manager and agent. Grace Lee Whitney was also paid under a SAG contract. All of our actors who were SAG members were hired under SAG contracts.”
    SFWA believes Paramount has given ST:NV their tacit approval. That’s clear. But was Paramount aware that the production was paying for writers and actors?
    If ST:NV is now a “professional production,” they will find themselves having to work under very strict requirements when using union talent in front of, and behind, the camera from now on. It could become prohibitively expensive to continue the production without big infusion of cash. Which begs the question…
    ..if ST:NV is a fan production and doesn’t generate any profits, where is the money coming from to pay the actors and writers?
    Apparently, in this case, it came from Zicree’s pocket. He writes:
    “At an early stage of pre-production, I founded my own production company, the Magic Time Company, made up of myself, William H. Wallen – formerly Senior Vice President of Marketing for Sony/Columbia-Tristar – and one other partner, an investor in the film and TV industry.
    It was clear by that point that “World Enough and Time” would be a huge undertaking in terms of production logistics and would require the full commitment of not only James Cawley’s production company, but mine as well. As a result, “World Enough and Time” became a co-production between Cawley Entertainment Company and the Magic Time Company.
    In all, my company invested significant funds, largely for production expenses and key crew salaries. I personally hired my editor, Chris Cronin – a professional who works in Los Angeles on numerous TV shows, features and music videos – full-time for a solid four months, again at Industry rates.”
    I am confused. Zicree was hired to write the script, and paid to be the director, but he also co-financed the project. So wasn’t he in essence paying himself? Something doesn’t add up.
    It will be interesting to see if Paramount will continue to turn a blind eye to ST:NV if they are no longer pretending to be a fan production. Clearly, James Cawley — the star and producer of ST:NV — is worried. He are some excerpts from his statement on the matter:
    “[…]Paramount Pictures owns the copyright to Star Trek. The relationship of Star Trek New Voyages with Paramount Pictures is very strictly defined.
    We are not allowed to sell tickets to screenings of our episodes. We are not allowed to sell advertising for our episodes. We are not allowed to sell DVD copies of our episodes. We are not allowed in any way to produce or distribute our episodes for profit. These are the rules by which Paramount allows us to continue. We will not allow anyone connected with STNV to violate those guidelines or misrepresent our efforts.
    Legally, we are a fan-based production. We exist solely because we maintain our amateur status, and good faith relationship with Paramount CBS.
    […]I must stress this as strongly as I can. We are committed to maintaining our relationship with Paramount Pictures. We are a fan-based production. Legally, our episodes are AMATEUR. Marc Scott Zicree’s claims otherwise are notwithstanding.
    […]As I understand the situation, as it was explained to me by Rules Committee Chair, Jeff Carver, the award requirements specify that only PROFESSIONAL productions are eligible for consideration. Therefore, by the rules of the SFWA, the episode is not eligible. I understand this and I respect and agree with that position. The SFWA is a highly regarded professional organization and your awards are intended to acknowledge professional excellence.”

  3. “..if ST:NV is a fan production and doesn’t generate any profits, where is the money coming from to pay the actors and writers?”
    Where indeed. Donations, maybe? Well heeled fans who want to see more Trek so bad they’ll actually pony up directly? THAT would be interesting.
    And I’d be interested in seeing Paramount’s reaction, too.

  4. Maybe it’s the time of year, but my question is: what does the government/IRS say? Is ST:NV a (non-professional) hobby or a (professional) business?
    A little Googling turned up:
    In order to make this determination, taxpayers should consider the following factors:
    * Does the time and effort put into the activity indicate an intention to make a profit?
    * Does the taxpayer depend on income from the activity?
    * If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond the taxpayer’s control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business?
    * Has the taxpayer changed methods of operation to improve profitability?
    * Does the taxpayer or his/her advisors have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business?
    * Has the taxpayer made a profit in similar activities in the past?
    * Does the activity make a profit in some years?
    * Can the taxpayer expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity?
    ===== end quoted material =====
    Based the above and what’s been said thus far, it seems to me that ST:NV is a (non-professional) hobby despite the fact that Mr. Cawley pays some of the participants.
    To relate this to another of the recurring issues on this blog: what if Mr. Cawley hired (read: paid) you, Lee, to write his memoir, used a vanity press to self-publish the resulting manuscript, and then gave all copies of the book away for free. Would that be considered a “professional production”?
    Not in my opinion – Mark

  5. I don’t see why there’s any confusion. While fans aren’t allowed to make money off their endeavours, why should it be forbidden to spend money *on* them? Not being a native speaker I paid a professional translator/editor to edit/correct my LOTR and HP fanfiction.
    If the ST:NV people like to spend money on their hobby – same as everyone else does, whether you keep horses, play golf/tennis, collect stamps or build model planes, whatever – that is totally legit, imo.
    The script is a professional endeavour, as the writers were paid. The movie it was used for is not, as it doesn’t generate any profit. Where’s the problem?

  6. I don’t know anything about Star Trek and it’s fans but I agree with Kete. You can actually be an unpaid professional. I think you’re trying to make something out of nothing here, Lee 🙂


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