Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Day 01 - Welcome

2012 is soon to become a part of the past and Star Trek fan productions are still with us.

It has been a contentious year with regards to copyright and trademark protection, starting with massive, popular online opposition to the "Stop Online Piracy Act" (SOPA) and its international equivalent, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Both of them were mainly opposed because of their potential for misuse rather than the notion that copyright owners should not enjoy a fair return for their creations.

Star Trek fans have always been lucky in that Paramount in recent years have recognised that the longevity of their "franchise" depends on their fanbase. Those of us who have been involved in creating fan works have always hoped that the powers-that-be will recognise that this "Mexican standoff" is beneficial to all concerned. Without getting too technical, Paramount and its licensees have a thankless task on their hands protecting their films, books and music from the death-by-a-thousand-cuts of the multimillion dollar online pirates whilst satisfying their legitimate fans.

Fans have always maintained that what they do is meant to be a loving tribute to the fictional world that they admire so much and, as Josh Wattles, the copyright professor and lawyer pointed out at this year's SanDiego Comic-Con, this could be the biggest factor in our defence.

In some cases, the entertainment industry is actively trying to involve their fans but is it liberating or stifling for them? Star Trek fans especially need to make sure that their support of older seasons of the franchise does not become an opposition to new interpretations. With the buildup to the new film coming in 2013, "Star Trek: Into Darkness", Paramount's publicity focus is moving towards it however it's a big franchise with a lot of licensing opportunities. There have been a few cease & desist letters received by fan producers but they have been pin-pricks overall and in every case I know of have been resolved without going to court.

The technological revolution that has made this piracy so prevalent and changed our lives and society in such a short span of time has also been a liberating force for amateur artists, making it possible for Everyman, the common man - or woman - with little or no training, to create works in media that twenty years ago were the domain of professionals. Affordable cameras, lighting and video editing software have made fan films possible just as microphones and the internet as a distribution medium have re-invented the audio drama as a dramatic form.

As the director of media for TrekUnited and the (purely amateur) publisher of TrekUnited Publishing I have seen the digital revolution totally change the landscape of the publishing industry. The publishing houses have, to some extent, actively embraced eBooks to make up for their lost ground to the new online commerce giant, Amazon, which has devastated booksellers big and small. In a less successful move, they have tried to protect their investment by adding stringent controls on their products in the form of DRM, but have found that this has had a negative reaction from their customers.

There can be no doubt that the publishing industry is in upheaval, with the Big Six publishers set to become the big two-and-a-half with the merger of Penguin & Random House and the proposed merger of News Corp. owned Harper Collins & Simon & Schuster. At the opposite end of the scale, authors are chafing at a traditional publishing system that left them at the mercy of the establishment, as Kristine Kathryn Rusch, an writer pointed out in her recently updated article, "Writing Like It’s 1999".

It's not without it's pitfalls though with the self publishing 'cottage industry', mostly in the form of eBook and Print On Demand (POD) publishers. spawning an internet filling up with websites, companies and individuals offering advice and/or services to self publishers. Some are scams but most are sincere of which Joel Friedlander's The Book Designer leaps to mind first, followed by the Self-Publishing Yahoo Group and the eye-opening, Writer Beware ® Blogs!

Why do I linger on the world of professionals when the Twelve Trek Days Of Christmas has always been about the work of amateurs? Because this year our theme is that, as amateurs, we do it for love! This is a play on the fact that the word comes from the Old French for "lover" - but you knew that already, didn't you? - and the belief that we can take pride in our amateur status. It in no way implies that what we do is meant to displace or denigrate professionals or their work. On the contrary, whether it be a book, a film, a piece of music or an animation, fan producers strive to follow in the steps of the professionals who they admire, the writers, producers, costumers and actors who have made Star Trek the social icon it is today.

Some of the best fan producers have gone on to become professionals, its not easy but it has been done. Those who have gone on to the ranks of the pro's have done so by hard work and practicing the basics that any other professional would need to cover - fan production is not a short cut. However I am gratified to see that fan production is becoming recognised as a legitimate part of a would-be professional's "show reel" or portfolio.

In truth, few of us harbour dreams of professionalism outside our wildest fantasies! Most of us do it to extend the mythology of Star Trek, to create and share more adventures of the characters we love. They might be tailored to our own tastes perhaps. We might be guilty of a preference here and there but of one thing you can be sure...

We do it for love.

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