Update on Arizona Drone Laws

Farming by Mauricio Lima from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Farming by Mauricio Lima from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Earlier this year, Arizona passed a new law regarding unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), aka drones. The purpose of this law is to prevent cities from making separate regulations. This law makes it a misdemeanor to use a drone in a way that interferes with law enforcement or fire operations. It’s a felony to use a drone to “intentionally photograph or loiter over or near a critical facility in the furtherance of any criminal offense.”

I have heard reports of drones interfering with aerial firefighting operations, causing planes to be grounded, but I have yet to hear of anyone be cited or arrested for violating this law.

On the flip side, the law is helpful to hobbyists by requiring cities with more than one park to allow drones in at least one of them. Beyond that, the law requires drone operators to comply with the Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) rules of UASs.

Rules for Flying a Drone for Fun
The FAAs rules for flying a drone as a hobbyist are pretty simple and straightforward:

  • All drones over 0.55 lbs must be registered. Your drone and its cargo total weight must be under 55 lbs.
  • You must always fly your drone in your unassisted visual line-of-sight (exception for prescription eyeglasses or contacts).
  • You must fly your drone at an altitude that is less than 400 feet.
  • Always yield the right of way to manned aircraft.
  • You can’t fly a drone within 5 miles of an airport without prior notification.

I imagine some drone enthusiasts or clubs have mapped where the 5-mile radius around each Phoenix-area airport ends. Hopefully, wherever you live in Arizona, there’s a place near your home where you can fly your drone. My dog was intrigued and a little frightened when we encountered a drone-flyer at a park.

Rules for Flying a Drone for Business Purposes
The FAA’s rules for using a drone for commercial purposes are much more complicated. Here are some of the requirements that apply in addition to the rules above:

  • Operators must be at least 16 years old and have a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate
  • Drone operators cannot operate more than one drone simultaneously.
  • The maximum permissible groundspeed is 100 mph.
  • You must fly your drone during the day.
  • No flying drones over people (exception for those involved in the drone operation).
  • No flying drones from a moving vehicle except in sparsely populated areas.
  • No carrying hazardous materials with your drone.

You can read the full summary of the FAA’s rules for commercial drone operations, including record and reporting requirements, on the FAA website. If your project requires violating these rules, you can apply for a certificate of waiver if you can demonstrate that your project can be executed safely.

More Information
If you have additional questions or want to stay up-to-date on the legalities of flying drones, check out the FAA’s UASs site or Know Before You Fly. You can also seek out a local lawyer who understands the federal and local drone rules that apply to you. If you want to connect with me, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

FTC Compliance Friendly Reminders

Praise by bark from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Praise by bark from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Bloggers, vloggers, and other social influencers frequently asked me about the rules regarding disclosure when partnering with companies and using affiliate links. With holidays (and therefore holiday gift guides) on the horizon, it seemed apropos to share some helpful reminder for how to comply with the FTC’s disclosure rules when you get free product or are compensated for providing a review.

It’s All About Transparency
The purpose of the FTC’s disclosure rules is transparency. When people consume content, they have a right to know whether the creator has a relationship with the company or product or whether it is 100% their independent opinion. Knowing that a person has a relationship with a company, which may or may not include financial compensation, will impact whether a person reads or view a post and how much weight or credibility to give it.

To comply with the transparency requirements of Federal law, social influencers must clearly and prominently label the content they were compensated to make as advertising to avoid misleading consumers.

Disclosure First
Many influencers put their notice that they were compensated for doing a post or that a post has affiliate links at the end of the content. This is likely insufficient to comply with the rules because consumers need to be informed before they form an opinion about a product that they’re reading a sponsored post or an ad.

In general, you should make a disclosure in the post itself and shortly before the reader receives the advertising message. The FTC recommends putting it in front of or above the ad’s headline. Additionally, the notice need to be clear and unambiguous language. To determine whether your disclosure complies with the FTC, consider your notice from the perspective of the reasonable consumer who’s seeing your content for the first time. Will he/she notice the disclosure statement and understand that they’re reading or seeing an ad?

The FTC says terms like “ad,” “advertisement,” or “sponsored advertising content” are likely to be understood but terms like “promoted,” or “sponsored by [XYZ]” don’t comply with the disclosure requirement because they could be interpreted as merely underwriting the content without influencing the statements made in it.

So what does this mean? If you write a review of a product that you got for free or got paid for writing the post about it, you have to disclose at the top of the post that you have a relationship with the company. If you use affiliate links, you have to clearly disclose those relationships as well, prior to posting the link. (In some circumstances, using the term “affiliate link” may be insufficient if the average consumer doesn’t know the difference between links and affiliate links. Yes, this happens – I recently attend a blogging conference where an attendee assumed that the terms “link” and “affiliate link” were interchangeable.)

Every Post, Every Platform
When you have a relationship with a company or are compensated for writing about a product, you have to disclose it to your audience every time you write about it – regardless of the platform it’s on or what device people use to access it. Every single time. (Yes, I know this is annoying, but it’s what the FTC requires.)

Disclosure is Everyone’s Responsibility
Everyone who is involved in the creation or distribution of native advertising should review the content to ensure that the required disclosure is present and that the material does not mislead the audience about the product or the relationship between the writer and the company. This includes middle men like ad agencies. If anyone is found to be in violation of the FTC rules about native advertising, they could be fined by the FTC – the company that created the product or service, the writer, and anyone in between who was involved – up to $16,000. That’s a stiff penalty for forgetting or refusing to disclose a relationship.

If you want to learn more about this topic, I recommend the FTC’s article, Native Advertising: A Guide for Businesses. If you want to chat with me about these issues, like how to incorporate these requirements into website terms of service or contracts with third party content creators, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Someone Posted a Photo of Me Online Without Consent

Photographer by Robert Cooke from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Photographer by Robert Cooke from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

People come to this site almost every day with questions about whether someone can post their picture on the internet without obtaining consent. Some people even ask if it’s a crime or whether they can sue.

Sue for what? Which of your rights have been violated?

Of course, each situation must be evaluated on its merits. It’s possible that a person is concerned with an intimate photo, a photograph that was taken in a bathroom, or circumstances where they are being harassed. I’m not saying that there aren’t situations where a person’s rights may have been violated; however, the frequency with which I get these questions makes me wonder whether most of these people have a legitimate legal concern or merely hurt feelings.

No Expectation of Privacy in Public
Remember, in the U.S., there is no expectation of privacy in anything you do in public (exceptions of course for places like bathrooms, confessionals, etc.). So, if someone snaps a photo of you that is less than flattering, and they post it on the internet, as long as they are not violating your rights, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Maybe they took a photo of you not putting your shopping cart away, walking around with your skirt tucked into your underwear, or texting while driving. I think there are much more important things to talk about in general and definitely that are worth of documenting permanently online; however, it’s not illegal. Just like it is not illegal to be stupid, it is not illegal to post stupid things online. The internet is full of stupid.

So What Do You Do?
Well, if you truly believe that you’ve been the victim of a crime or that your rights have been violated, contact the police or buy an hour with a lawyer to review your situation. You may be in a situation where your legal rights have not been violated but the posting itself and violates the terms that apply to the site where it was published. In that case, reporting the image to the website administrators may be sufficient to get it removed.

If it is purely a situation where you are merely angry or upset, and the person won’t remove the image when asked, let it go. If you’re embarrassed by your behavior, don’t do it again. If you’re in a situation where the image shows up if someone Googles your name, you can try to bury it by manipulating the search algorithm. Hopefully it’s not a situation where you screwed up so badly that the image or situation is going to dominate the search results for years to come.

On the Flip Side
If you’re thinking about snapping a picture of someone, check your motives. If you’ve taken a picture and you have the impulse to share it online, double and triple check your motives. What are the benefits of sharing this image? Are you being vindictive? If the situation were reversed, would you want an image of you in a similar situation posted? What if the person in the picture was your parent or significant other – would you post it then?

The person in the photo isn’t the only one at risk of losing face. Do you want to be the jerk who not only took this photo, but also shared it? You could harm yourself as well as the other person.

What is socially inappropriate and what is illegal are often two drastically different standards. My rule of thumb for this situations is the same: Think before you act. Think before you post. If you want to talk more about internet privacy or social media law, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

What’s Up with YouTube Pulling Ads from Videos?

Speak No Evil by Robert Young from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Speak No Evil by Robert Young from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

In the last week, several people have posted that YouTube pulled the ads from their videos because their content wasn’t “advertiser-friendly.”

What’s Advertiser-Friendly Content?
According to YouTube policies, ads can only be run on content that’s all-ages appropriate. “It has little to no inappropriate or mature content in the video stream, thumbnail, or metadata (such as in the video title). If the video does contain inappropriate content, the context is usually newsworthy or comedic and the creator’s intent is to inform or entertain (not offend or shock).”

According to YouTube, you can’t run ads against content that contains the following:

  • Sexually suggestive content;
  • Violence
  • Profanity or vulgar language
  • Harassment
  • Promotion of drugs
  • Sensitive subjects – including, war, political conflicts, natural disasters, and tragedies

If a user repeatedly posts videos that violate this policy, YouTube may suspend monetization on your whole channel. This could be problematic for content creators who make a living in part from their YouTube channel(s).

Their Site, Their Rules
Reading the YouTube rules, it’s ok to create and post content that violates some of its advertiser-friendly guidelines, but not make money from it.

And don’t even think about trying to argue that YouTube is violating your First Amendment right to free speech. It’s their site so they make the rules. They’re not stopping you from creating and publishing content on your own forum, just setting the rules for their platform.

Compare this to a shopping mall. They control who can sell wares and what behavior is appropriate. If you break the rules – by screaming or walking a body bag through the food court (not that I’ve done that) – you can be asked to leave or even banned for a period of time. Likewise, if you scream obscenities on the street, the police might be called and you could get a ticket for disturbing the peace.

So, What’s Changed?
It appears that not much has changed on YouTube. The policy regarding advertiser-friendly content hasn’t changed, but rather how it’s enforced. Before, if a video violated this rule, they would merely turn off the monetization feature, and you may not notice the difference unless you checked your Video Manager. Now, YouTube is sending an email notice when they turn off monetization.

I went back and reviewed the law firm’s YouTube channel. I run ads on most videos, but I haven’t made a cent from YouTube. There’s only one video on which monetization was turned off. My other videos where I may occasionally swear and/or mention sexual content like “revenge porn” are still monetized. (Not that I expect to make money from my videos, but you never know.)

If you have an internet-based business that relies on another platform to make money, be sure you read the site’s terms of service before you design your business model around it. (Remember, there’s a good chance the site can change the rules at any time.) If you want to talk more about internet or social media law, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Getting Fired because of your Side Hustle

Explosion by Charles Dyer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Don’t Blow Up Your Master Plan | “Explosion” by Charles Dyer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

When I was on one of the weekly calls with my mastermind group last week, one of my fellow Shankminders asked me to comment on a phenomenon amongst entrepreneurs – working on your side gig while at your full-time job.

Wait . . . what?! There are people out there sitting at their desks, and while they are supposed to be working for their employer, they are working on their side hustle? I was incredulous, but the members of my group knowingly nodded their heads.

I thought my head was going to explode. How can anyone think this is ok?

Am I the only person who read in their employment contract? What are you supposed to do on the first day of work besides read the company handbook? Even before I went to law school, I remember signing off on company policies that said employees couldn’t use company time or company resources to run a side business. At the time (2005ish), I assumed this policy primarily applied to people who might be realtors or the like on the weekend, but now I see how this applies to anyone who has a side business – including bloggers and other social influencers.

The notion that people are running their side gig during regular work hours raises a lot of red flags for me.

  • If you are an at-will employee, you can be fired for any reason, or no reason at all. Working on a side project when you’re supposed to be doing your work tasks seems like a good reason to fire you, especially if you’re neglecting your work duties to do it.
  • Employers can easily track what employees are doing at work with technology like keystroke trackers. You may be telling your employer a lot more than what websites you’re visiting – like passwords and your company’s trade secrets.
  • Your contract may have a provision that says anything you create during company time or using company resources is owned by your employer. If your contract has this provision, you may unwittingly forfeit your business to your employer, without any options for recourse.

Some employees have a provision in their contract that says that anything they create during the ten-year of their employment that is related to the work of their employer, is owned by the employer. This could apply to projects done even outside the office.

In general, I am an advocate of employer’s staying out to of employees’ business – personal or otherwise – and that comes with the obligation that employees keep non-work issues out of the office. I understand why it makes sense for someone to occasionally check social media at work, or like during their lunch break. And unless there is a security reason to prohibit it, employees should be allowed to have their phones at their desks to take phone calls or respond to text messages related to their families, permitted it doesn’t interfere with doing their jobs.

But work on a side gig while at the office? No no no. (At least, not without permission.) There are too many risks, the least of which is losing the job which is paying your bills while you’re getting your side hustle off the ground.

If you don’t know what the rules are at your office, go back and read them. Ignorance of the company rules, particularly the ones you signed off on, will not save you from discipline or worse. If you need help understanding how to work on your side gig while at your current employment, talk to a business attorney her knee or a resource that helps entrepreneurs in your community. If you want to see me pontificates more about this and related topics, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Severability: Lifesaver of Contracts

Cut out and collect! by Rob Brewer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Cut out and collect! by Rob Brewer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Part of my job as a lawyer is writing and reviewing contract. I love writing contracts – you put in creative and crazy clauses as long as they’re legal. I get many clients who draft their own agreements or get a contract from a peer or template website (shudder) and ask me to review it.

Most clients do an adequate job getting the basics terms into the document – offer, acceptance, and consideration – but where they falter is boilerplate legalese that every contract should have. (I swear we don’t put this stuff in there just to make it look fancy. It serves valuable purposes.) One of the most important provisions people who draft their own contracts forget is severability.

A severability clause saves a contract in the event that one of the provisions is invalid or illegal. It lets the party (or the court) cut out the invalid provision and allow the remaining terms stand as the contract. Here’s a simple severability clause I’ve used in other contracts:

If any provision of this Agreement is held invalid by a court of competent jurisdiction, such invalidity shall not affect the enforceability of any other provisions contained in this Agreement, and the remaining portions of this Agreement shall continue in full force and effect. If a provision is found to be invalid, the Parties hereby request that the intention of the invalid provision be upheld wherever possible.


So what happens if your contract doesn’t have a severability clause?

If all the terms of your agreement are legal and valid, nothing. You don’t need a severability clause to save it.

If you don’t have a severability clause and you have a term in the agreement that’s invalid, it could invalidate the entire contract. (Yeah, that’s bad.)

So if you’re in a situation where you have written contract with someone, and you think they’ve violated it, you could sue them for breach of contract (assuming the contract allows for this). If the alleged breacher shows the court that there’s an invalid provision in the contract and no severability clause, the court could declare that the entire contract invalid. If that happens, there’s no written contract between you, which means there might not be a legally-binding agreement. If that’s the case, there can’t be a breach – and you just lost your case.

Severability clauses are short provisions that can have a big impact in a contract dispute. It’s one of the provisions I include whenever I draft a contract and one of the first provisions I look for when reviewing an agreement for a client, especially if there’s a suspected breach.

I always caution people who look to friends, colleagues, or the internet for free contract templates or who draft their own documents. At the very least have a lawyer review your agreement before you start using a document to make sure it addresses your needs and protects your interests.

If you need help with a contract or are looking for more information about contracts, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

The Law Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings

Sad Face by wlodi from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Sad Face by wlodi from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: The law doesn’t give a fuck about your feelings.

I get a lot of phone calls and emails from people who are sad, angry, afraid, or filled with regret and they ask me if there are any legal options for their problems. The law doesn’t provide recourse when you’re sad. The law provides recourse when your rights have been violated.

And don’t assume that just because your feelings are hurt that your rights must have been violated. With most people I talk to, that’s not the case.

The law doesn’t care about your feelings. It cares about your rights – and only when you can actually prove it.

Before I went to law school, I worked in the mental health industry for nine years. Believe it or not, I was a Licensed Professional Counselor. I talked to people about their feelings for a living. (And there’s a reason I don’t do it anymore – I’d rather be more hands-on in the problem-solving process.) I probably get just as many calls from people who want to talk about their feelings now as I did back then. A lot of people call lawyers when they should be calling therapists. They’re looking for a magical answer to make things the way they wish they could be. I’m sorry, but most of the time, the law doesn’t do this.

In general, the law is a bad course of action to resolve a non-criminal problem. It should be the option last resort because the process could easily take months or years during which you will spend thousands of dollars in legal fees. Even if you win – and there’s no guarantee – you may never collect. It’s a long process, filled with stress and heartache – no matter which side you’re on.

If you think you have a legal problem should you consult a lawyer? Yes. But don’t be surprised if lawyer tells you that there isn’t a legal solution to your problem.

In my perfect world, people would consult a lawyer before problems happen. Many times when I consult with clients, I’m providing as much information about business strategies and considering the gestalt of a situation, not just giving legal advice. It’s much easier (and cheaper) to prevent and prepare for problems than untangle legal knots and clean up avoidable messes.

If there’s a topic you want me to pontificate on, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Turnabout is Fair Play – Getty Sued for $1B for Copyright Violations

The Trees are Laughing at Us by daspunkt from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The Trees are Laughing at Us by daspunkt from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Getty Images is known for sending letters to people suspected of using their images without purchasing a license. These demand letters essentially say, “By using our image, you’ve agreed to pay for a license. Pay $XXX by this date or we will sue you.”

They may have started the trend of other photographers sending similar demand letters when people use their images without permission. (I’ve sent these type of letters and counseled clients who have received them – usually from pulling images from a Google Image search without verifying that they had permission to use it.)

Getty sent such a letter to documentary photographer Carol Highsmith, claiming that she was violating their terms for using an image. Here’s the catch – it was a photograph that Highsmith took herself and previously shared with the Library of Congress to allow free use of her work by the general public. Highsmith has shared tens of thousands of images with the public through the Library of Congress since 1988.

Highsmith learned that Getty is claiming copyright rights to thousands of her images work and demanding payment for licenses, often without attribution to her, and adding “false watermarks” to the images. She filed a $1,000,000,000 (that’s $1B with a “B”) copyright infringement lawsuit against these agencies for the “gross misuse” of 18,755 of her photographs.

That’s a lot of photographs.
I hope they have good insurance.

But $1B?! Really?!
Actually, yes. In this case, suing for $1B makes perfect sense.

A party who adds or removes a watermark from a photo to avoid detection for copyright infringement can be fined up to $25,000 per image in addition to other financial damages for copyright infringement.
$25,000/image x 18,755 images = $468,875,000

And if a party is found to have violated this law in the last three years – which Getty has – the complaining party can ask for triple the damages.
$468,875,000 x 3 = $1,406,625,000

Looking at this, it’s easy to see how easy it is for Highsmith to reasonably request over $1B in damages. She’s also requested a permanent injunction to prohibit future use of images by Getty and the other Defendants and attorneys’ fees.

You can read the full complaint filed by Highsmith against Getty in New York Federal Court here.
So far, Getty claims they will defend themselves “vigorously.”

This could be a fun case to watch. If this case doesn’t go to trial (and most cases don’t), I hope the settlement isn’t kept completely secret behind a non-disclosure agreement. One of the recommendations I make to anyone who is a professional creative is determine in advance how you want to respond when your work is used without your permission and plan accordingly. For many people, it’s not if their work is stolen, but when.

There are a lot of issues that come into play surrounding photography, image rights, and copyright. If you want to chat more about these topics, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

EDIT: The previous version of this post stated that Highsmith released her work to public domain. My apologies. Highsmith retains the copyright in her work, but allows others to freely use it through the Library of Congress.

Typical Sex Video Email Conversation

What Are You Looking At by nolifebeforecoffee from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

What Are You Looking At by nolifebeforecoffee from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I regularly receive emails from people asking questions about the legalities related to intimate photos and videos – particularly situations when a third party has possession of them. Sometimes the third party allegedly obtained them nefariously and sometimes the people emailing me voluntarily sent the person photos or video and now they have concerns about what said person will do with them.

Now they have concerns?! These are questions they should have asked themselves before they sent the photos/video to begin with!

Here’s an example of how these conversations typically go. The text in italics are things I usually think, but don’t share with the other the person in the moment.

Prospective Client (PC): I made a video with my boyfriend and his ex got a hold of it. His ex is threatening to send it to my parents and post it. What can I do about this?

How did his ex get access to your sex video? This sounds like someone neither of you should have contact with.

ME: How old are you?

Please don’t be a child . . . please don’t be a child . . . please don’t be a child . . . (Yes, sometimes it’s a minor – or so they say.)

PC: 24.

ME: Thank goodness this isn’t a potential inadvertent kiddie porn situation.

You’re an adult. Besides being embarrassing, who cares if this person shows the video to your parents? (I’ve also had people email me claiming the third party is threatening to send it to the PC’s employer.)

ME: Where do you and the ex live?

In Arizona, merely threatening to post revenge porn is a felony.

PC: Nebraska.

Ok, well that’s outside the limits of my law license and revenge porn legal knowledge.

ME: Here’s the list of the current revenge porn and related laws in all 50 States. This will tell you how the laws in your State apply to these situations.

PC: I don’t know what to do. I want to go to the police but I don’t know if I can do that.

ME: Of course you can go to the police! Give them a call, explain your situation, and ask if there’s anything they can do to help you. They may be the best ones to know if this situation violates your State’s criminal law.

And maybe some local resources too that help people in these types of situations.

I get questions and hits on my site every day from people asking about intimate photos and videos, not all of which were taken with consent, and how to keep them from getting out. Unfortunately, I also get hits from people who want to post revenge porn without repercussions – which is disgusting.

When in doubt – don’t. Don’t create intimate photos or videos, don’t share them with others, and don’t post them online. What seemed like a good idea in the moment, may create long lasting regret, especially if it shows up when someone Googles your name. However, if you choose to create this type of material, do it with your device, keep it under password, and never let the files out of your control. Once this material is released, it’s hard to get it back or verify that every copy has been destroyed.

We’re still in the infancy of how we’re going to deal with intimate photos and videos from a social and legal perspective. If you want to chat with me about revenge porn, privacy, or any related topics, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here. If you think you’re the victim of revenge porn or threatened revenge porn, contact your local law enforcement agency.

Response to Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines

11/6/2015 - Taurid Meteor Shower - Joshua Tree , CA by Channone Arif from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

11/6/2015 – Taurid Meteor Shower – Joshua Tree , CA by Channone Arif from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

In light of the recent lawsuit between CBS and Paramount Pictures and a Star Trek fan film creator, CBS and Paramount released guidelines regarding fan-created films.

Previously, fan fiction movies were limited to camcorders and sets people created in their backyards, but now with computer animation and other technology, a fan could create an impressive work of fan fiction. You can see some earlier Trek fan fiction on the documentary Trekkies.

A friend asked me to weigh in on these guidelines. As a die-hard Star Trek fan, my legal interpretation may be slightly biased in favor of promoting fandom. Below are the guidelines in full with my comments in italics:

CBS and Paramount Pictures are big believers in reasonable fan fiction and fan creativity (I’m glad you support fan art/fiction. Star Trek is known for inviting fan-submitted scripts, but what do you mean by “reasonable?”), and, in particular, want amateur fan filmmakers to showcase their passion for Star Trek. Therefore, CBS and Paramount Pictures will not object to, or take legal action against, Star Trek fan productions that are non-professional and amateur and meet the following guidelines. (It’s nice when people tell you how not to get sued.)

Guidelines for Avoiding Objections:
1. The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than 2 segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes. Is this because you don’t want fan fiction to compete with the TV series and movies? I wonder if someone is less likely to make significant money from a one-off video vs. a series. I wonder if the copyright holder would have objected if Melissa Hunter only made one Adult Wednesday Addams video instead of two seasons.)

2. The title of the fan production or any parts cannot include the name “Star Trek.” However, the title must contain a subtitle with the phrase: “A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION” in plain typeface. The fan production cannot use the term “official” in either its title or subtitle or in any marketing, promotions or social media for the fan production. (This makes sense from a trademark perspective. With brands creating content in various genres, it’s important to avoid confusing viewers about what is/is not made by the brand vs fans.)

3. The content in the fan production must be original, not reproductions, recreations or clips from any Star Trek production. If non-Star Trek third party content is used, all necessary permissions for any third party content should be obtained in writing. (This makes sense because of copyright. It’s ok to copy ideas, but not the original work itself. This may be overstepping a little bit depending on how they define “recreations.”)

In my Starfleet uniform and Trill Make-up, 2000

In my Starfleet uniform and Trill Make-up, 2000

4. If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek uniforms, accessories, toys and props, these items must be official merchandise and not bootleg items or imitations of such commercially available products. (I understand that they want to promote their partners and don’t want fans being misled. However, it makes more sense to require disclosure of sources of props and costumes. Some fans prefer to have a tailor custom-make uniforms instead of buying them from commercial sources. And thank you for calling them uniforms, not costumes – as a fan and Starfleet officer myself, I appreciate that.)

5. The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees. (What?! This seems overreaching and overly broad, especially considering that non-compete agreements are not permitted in California. Past and current employees can have non-disclosure agreements that limit their participation in other projects. Even a hobbyist has to pay for certain things – like a musician paying for studio time.)

6. The fan production must be non-commercial (This makes sense. Many artists approve of fan art as long as the person isn’t selling their work.):

  • CBS and Paramount Pictures do not object to limited fundraising for the creation of a fan production, whether 1 or 2 segments and consistent with these guidelines, so long as the total amount does not exceed $50,000, including all platform fees, and when the $50,000 goal is reached, all fundraising must cease. (Thank you for understanding that hobbyists have expenses – despite your contradictory term above.)
  • The fan production must only be exhibited or distributed on a no-charge basis and/or shared via streaming services without generating revenue. (Ok – so you can’t submit your video to film festivals or run ads on it if you post on YouTube.)
  • The fan production cannot be distributed in a physical format such as DVD or Blu-ray. (This makes sense given current technology. They want to protect their intellectual property.)
  • The fan production cannot be used to derive advertising revenue including, but not limited to, through for example, the use of pre or post-roll advertising, click-through advertising banners, that is associated with the fan production. (Fair enough.)
  • No unlicensed Star Trek-related or fan production-related merchandise or services can be offered for sale or given away as premiums, perks or rewards or in connection with the fan production fundraising. (This makes sense in terms of protecting their intellectual property, and also makes it more challenging to use fundraising sites.)
  • The fan production cannot derive revenue by selling or licensing fan-created production sets, props or costumes. (Agreed. This makes sense.)

7. The fan production must be family friendly and suitable for public presentation. Videos must not include profanity, nudity, obscenity, pornography, depictions of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or any harmful or illegal activity, or any material that is offensive, fraudulent, defamatory, libelous, disparaging, sexually explicit, threatening, hateful, or any other inappropriate content. The content of the fan production cannot violate any individual’s right of privacy. (I understand no porn, but no illegal activities? What are the bad guys supposed to do? Even Star Trek episodes and films depictions of tobacco and alcohol and the films contain the occasional swear word.)

8. The fan production must display the following disclaimer in the on-screen credits of the fan productions and on any marketing material including the fan production website or page hosting the fan production:

“Star Trek and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film intended for recreational use. No commercial exhibition or distribution is permitted. No alleged independent rights will be asserted against CBS or Paramount Pictures.” (This makes sense, but the last sentence suggests that CBS and Paramount may be able to use fan-created content without obtaining the creators’ permission.)

Hanging with the Klingons, Grand Slam Star Trek Convention, 2001

Hanging with the Klingons, Grand Slam Star Trek Convention, 2001

9. Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law. (What about the fans’ rights to protect their original works of authorship and their brands that don’t infringe on CBS or Paramount’s rights?)

10. Fan productions cannot create or imply any association or endorsement by CBS or Paramount Pictures. (Agreed.)

CBS and Paramount Pictures reserve the right to revise, revoke and/or withdraw these guidelines at any time in their own discretion. These guidelines are not a license and do not constitute approval or authorization of any fan productions or a waiver of any rights that CBS or Paramount Pictures may have with respect to fan fiction created outside of these guidelines. (This makes sense as long as CBS and Paramount don’t change the rules and go after a fan film creator who reasonably complied with the guidelines as written at that time.)

I appreciate that CBS and Paramount Pictures’ desire to protect their intellectual property and that put out guidelines to further this goal, but I wish they would be more fan-friendly. Hopefully this is only an over-zealous reaction to the recent lawsuit and not a sign of future legal battles between Star Trek and their fans.

If you have questions about the legalities of fan art/fiction or you just want to geek out about Star Trek, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.