I usually try to keep my geekery off the blog, but I've been watching the recent litigation involving the AXANAR (Star Trek fanfiction) film with interest in recent weeks. After the District Court for the Central District of California found on January 3 that the fanfiction film could not avail itself of the fair use defense to copyright infringement, the case went on to settle last week. The settlement reportedly includes the stipulation that the defendant adhere to a new set of fanfilm guidelines put forth by Paramount (which owns the relevant copyrights). These guidelines will likely affect future fanfilms. Presumably, if you adhere to the guidelines, you're working under a license from Paramount and won't have infringed copyright. The guidelines state that fanfilms have to be less than 15 minutes long and cannot use "Star Trek" in the title, among other things.
In some ways, it's actually helpful to fans when copyright holders set out guidelines like this, to make it clear precisely what fan activities are allowed with the copyright works. The Kindle Worlds program set up by Amazon a couple of years ago takes a similar approach to promulgating guidelines set out by the copyright holders of works included in the program to allow fans to make their own fanworks without infringing copyrights i.e., effectively under license from the copyright holders.
The downside is that it's possible, and indeed likely, that many of the guidelines now being put forth by copyright holders about fanfiction are actually more restrictive than, say, the fair use defense to copyright infringement might allow, but with the guidelines in place, many fans may take the path of least resistance (resistance is futile?) and comply with the guidelines for avoidance of doubt.
Creators of fanworks have not had much clear guidance from the law about when, and whether, their works are fair use - it's very difficult to make such determinations in the abstract and copyright law really requires these issues to be decided on a case by case basis. Several law professors (notably Rebecca Tushnet) have done a lot of extremely useful scholarly work over many years on fanfiction and copyright infringement, but we still have a long way to go in educating fan creators about their rights and obligations.
What kind of impact might the Star Trek infringement settlement have on the scope of fanfiction and fair use, if any? Or are we just seeing more of the same in the battle between content owners and fans?