Fan film on the final frontier: Axanar Productions and the limits of fair use in the digital age


  • Sarah Elizabeth Lerner University of California, Santa Barbara



Appropriation art, Copyright law, Crowdfunding, Fan labor, Transformative works


In an analysis of the copyright case Paramount/CBS v. Axanar Productions Inc. and Alec Peters (2016), which centers on a high-budget Star Trek fan film, I consider how the case frames digital-age media fandom's challenges to the law, and concomitantly, how the case frames the law's challenges to media fandom. Even while legal action of this kind does not dampen participatory culture on the whole, it raises questions about the legal definition of a fan and the limits of fair use doctrine, and it delineates the changing relationships between media industries and fans. Paramount/CBS v. Axanar Productions reveals the tension between the gift-giving ethos of fandom and online crowdfunding as a type of gift; it also reveals the negative industrial and legal reactions to fan filmmaking and crowdfunding as threats to the way film has traditionally been constituted. I analyze Axanar's use of Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, the introduction of Paramount/CBS's restrictive fan film guidelines, and finally, the rejected fair use argument proposed by the defense. I take up the rejected fair use argument by situating it alongside the case history of appropriation art in order to consider another way to argue for fan films as transformative works.