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Intellectual Property Rights and Star Trek


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I have a question for the group mind, and I'm tossin' it out HERE because this board is a congenial bunch and perhaps geeky enough that someone might have a clue as to the answers I'm lookin' for. But it's a COMPLICATED question, and requires some background.

Awright, Star Wars. SW is owned by Lucasfilm, outright. No one owns any PIECES of it. And Lucasfilm is owned by Disney, so Disney's who you ask if you want to make a SW TV show, movie, theme park, candy treat, garment, or toy product. Period. One stop shopping. Perhaps Disney's licensing department has a special Star Wars division, but that's about it as far as divisions go.

Now, The Walking Dead is a little different. Anything based on the TV show has to go through AMC, the TV cable channel that produces the show. However, there is an entirely separate licensing division based on the comic book that the TV show was lifted from. Hence, you want to make a Daryl Dixon action figure, or use the likeness of Andrew "Rick" Lincoln, you go through AMC... but you could make a TWC miniatures game based on the likenesses of the comic characters by simply contacting rights owner and TWC creator Robert Kirkman. But there's TWO different ways to go.

...which brings us to The Avengers/Marvel. The Marvel Cinematic Universe... that is, The Avengers, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America... is OWNED by Marvel Comics, which is owned by Disney, who made the movies. However, the Fantastic Four are owned by Marvel/Disney, but 20th Century Fox has the movie rights, and made the movies, while Sony has the movie rights to Spider-Man, and I'm STILL trying to figure out who-all has the rights to X-Men.

All the CHARACTERS are owned by Marvel, but the MOVIES and MOVIE RIGHTS are tied up nine ways from Sunday by different companies, to the point where getting Spider-Man for the last Avengers flick was considered a major achievement. And SOME of these people are JERKS about it; the first Fantastic Four movie was literally made solely to keep the movie rights, and was never intended to be released, and when the rightsholders wouldn't sell back or even lease the rights back to Disney, Marvel cancelled the FF comic in retaliation... despite it having been in print continuously since 1963.

But I'm digressing; this is piled too deep as it is. So back to my question: I'm thinkin' about Star Trek.

Been on a bit of a kick lately; bought the Modiphius minis for the Next Gen bridge crew, and have begun acquiring the HeroClix minis of the original series. And I have been in several discussions about the new Star Trek TV series, about which I have mixed feelings, particularly about the Klingons, who for some reason still speak tlhIngan Hol, straight out of Okrand's dictionary, but in no way resemble any Klingons ever seen on TV or movies previously, as well as having some weird new cultural traits.

I do not care for this. I want the Next Gen Klingons back. But the show is what it is, and some like it and some don't, and, well, we'll always have Qo'Nos, right?

But then someone on Facebook was tellin' me, "Dude, it's because the people makin' this new show don't have the rights to the old style Klingons."

I said, "Hah? It's Paramount. Paramount Pictures bought the rights from Desilu Studios, back in the day. How can they not have the rights to their own show?"

"Naw, dude, Paramount split from Viacom, and now they both have different rights to different parts of Star Trek, dude. That's why Shatner's Captain Kirk was born in Iowa but grew up on space colonies, but Chris Pine's Captain Kirk grew up on Earth and stole classic cars. That's why the new Klingons are bald and blue and fly around in giant Christmas ornaments, dude -- they had to create NEW Klingons, because the OTHER company has the rights to the Michael Dorn Klingons."

"................do WHA?"

So I did some research. Then I stopped, because my head hurt. Near as I can tell, boiled down, Viacom has SOME of the Star Trek IP rights... and Paramount has some OTHER Star Trek IP rights... but as far as I could tell, it was largely a matter of who could make TV shows as opposed to who could make and distribute movies. And if Klingons are a bone of contention, why are there Vulcans in all the new iterations?

Are Klingons an issue of property rights, or did someone just say, "Naw, I think Klingons should be bald and blue now, for no apparent reason, other than that I am a Hollywood Big Shot, and I Say So,"?

And what about the merch rights?

Can anyone out there shine some light on this?



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The ST:TNG Klingons first appeared in ST:TMP, so the folks making the movies do in fact have the right to use that version. As far as the differences in story, the writers and producers of the new movies felt too constrained by the existing story lines and history, so wiped the slate clean and blew up Vulcan to make sure they couldn't go back.


The Kzinti are an invention of Larry Nivan, who wrote them into an episode of ST:TAS as well his own Known Space stories.


Star Fleet Battles is based on a license that includes ST:TOS and ST:TAS and so includes the Kzinti, but not any of the movies.


The main continuity does not include ST:TAS.

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Doc Piske is pretty much spot on. The only episode of TAS anyone considers remotely canon is "Yesteryear," which is a long flashback to Spock's childhood on Vulcan, in which his brother Sybok and his human foster sister are conspicuously absent, as a tribute to how much stupid a few executives can kick out when you unleash them on a beloved canon and their first instinct is to crap on it so they like the flavor better.

The more reading I do online, the less convinced I am that rights have anything to do with it. After sifting several interviews with the showrunners, I find myself thinking about a thing I was once told by a TV writer.

"What you WANT is to hire a writer who wrote a script for your show. In the script, all your characters have something interesting to do, because the actors like that, and it has a great story, because the audience likes that, and it happens on the sets that already exist, because the networks like that, and it's totally filmable and excellent."

What you too often GET is a writer who wrote a script for your show in which one or more NEW characters show up, and they have interesting things to do while YOUR characters mostly sit and watch them and react to them, and you would have to hire new actors to play these characters, and likely they'll be doing things in new locations you don't have sets for, and you have to tell the writer to go and write a script that will work for YOUR show and characters, and not THEIRS."

Amusingly, Larry Niven and "The Soft Weapon" is a prime example, considering it's the same as his short story but with Star Trek people plugged in instead of his heroes. The kzinti attack their shuttle, kidnap them, our heroes outsmart them, and we head back to the status quo. The kzinti are never heard from again. It worked because, hey, Larry Niven's name in the credits looked good, they already had voice actors, and with an animated show, you don't worry about sets and locations and such. A similar situation ensued with "The City On The Edge Of Forever," one of TOS' most popular episodes; everyone agreed it was an awesome story, but that it wasn't really Star Trek, until it underwent a great many rewrites.

So, on TOS, someone came up with Klingons. They were basically a stand in for Cold War Russians, and due to lack of budget, they wore Mongol makeup. Space Barbarians!

Then, on TMP, due to wild executive interference and big budget, they had dinosaur ridges on their heads and new uniforms. And no one said anything because, hey, first new Star Trek in a decade, it looks cool, and what the hey, the Klingons were only onscreen for less than five minutes.

Then, on TNG, the Klingons had a Proud Warrior Code, as opposed to being the backstabbing jerks they'd been before that, but, hey, it made them more interesting, didn't it? And they aren't really Space Russians any more, right? And we just reused all the old Klingon props and uniforms left over from the movies (plus some stuff from the Planet Of The Apes movies, but shh, yer not supposed to notice that).

...and this brings us to the Kelvin Timeline, the odd new Klingons who wear helmets, and finally, the Discovery Klingons, who despite being ready to meet Captain Kirk in ten years, are inexplicably purple, lack hair, and fly around in giant Christmas ornaments that don't look a thing like D7 cruisers.

And the showrunners complain back at ME. "What are YOU whining about?" says the meme on Facebook. "You're just being a HYPOCRITE! The Klingons changed all the TIME in the old days! You choose NOW to whimper about it? Aaaah, you're just a big WIMP! WE changed things because those groady OLD klingons were all worn out and tired, and we're writing NEW stories and NEW arcs! You should LOVE these new Klingons! And you WOULD love them if you weren't just such a big ol' BABY about it!"

No... no, I don't think this has anything to do with IP rights or who owns the Klingons. In particular, I look at Spock's sister... the one nobody ever mentioned until suddenly she appears on this show, complete with psychic transmissions from Sarek whenever she wants some exposition. 

I think this is a case of someone who wandered in and instead of picking up the canon and existing characters, just said, "Naw, we're gonna introduce our own brand new everything, change everything because I think it would be cool, and if it won't fit in the box, clip it off. No one who matters will notice, and if the fans scream, we'll just shame them. We'll make it work..."

But if I am wrong, do jump in there.

I wonder if, when the Romulans appear, whether they will have polka dots and unicorn horns on their foreheads...

Edited by Dr.Bedlam
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7 hours ago, redambrosia said:

I have no clue about Star Trek. But Fox owns movie rights to X-Men. So if the deal goes through, Disney will have the X-Men too. 


Some of the rights, anyway... X Men movies have been released by more than one company. Then again, if Disney gets the rights, maybe we can all forget about the terrible Inhumans TV show...

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ST:TOS was produced by Desilu. Desilu was purchased (I believe during the show’s run) by Gulf + Western, then owners of Paramount Pictures, and renamed Paramount Television. Stuff got reorganized and sold off, but Paramount Pictures (who make the movies) and Paramount Television remained with the same company all the way through being bought by CBS and then Viacom’s ownership.


Then things get weird.


Viacom and CBS split in 2005, with Viacom becoming CBS and the rest becoming a new Viacom. This new Viacom ended up with Paramount Pictures and CBS with the television division. Anything made originally for the reboot movies is not necessarily available for use in television shows and vice versa from Discovery or any subsequent series.


To make matters worse, the merchandising rights are split between (at least) the two companies. Because that’s where the money is.


Klingons are Klingons though, since they appeared on TV first there shouldn’t be a problem with turtle-faced Klingons on TV, that’s probably just some unfortunate writer’s room decision making.

Edited by Sophie was taken
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