By Gail Appleson, Law Correspondent
NEW YORK (Reuters) - In "Star Trek," an evil alien collective known as the Borg repeatedly warns humans and other life forms: "Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated."
On Friday the author of a humorous guide to dating Trekkers said a federal judge has ruled that he assimilated too much of the cult television series.
U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti found that Samuel Ramer's use of copyrighted material was no laughing matter and halted further distribution of his $10.95 paperback, the author said.
Ramer, a New York assistant district attorney, said the judge had issued an injunction against him and the publisher of "Joy of Trek: How to Enhance Your Relationship With a Star Trek Fan" for violating Paramount Pictures Corp. copyrights.
The order halts further distribution of the book, which has been available at major bookstore chains. Ramer said he was clinging to hope the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would overturn the ruling.
In a hearing lasting four days last month, Paramount, a unit of Viacom Inc., argued that the book infringed on its copyrights because it used portions of some 300 scripts without authorization.
"Joy of Trek" was published last year by Carol Publishing Group of Secaucus, N.J. Ten-thousand copies were distributed nationally to bookstores and big chains, including Borders and Barnes & Noble.
Conti, who regularly sits in San Francisco, heard arguments for an injunction last month as a visiting judge in Manhattan federal court.
He found that the book's summaries of the show's plots and characters copied too much from the series and could not be justified as "fair use." Under the fair use doctrine, copyrighted material can be used for such writings as parodies, reviews and scholarly works.
Conti noted that Ramer, himself a die-hard "Star Trek" fan, had good intentions and was not motivated by a desire for profit.
Instead, Conti said, the author had been driven "by a genuine desire to help others to understand the idiosyncrasies of the typical ("Star Trek" fan)."
Ramer dedicated the book to his wife, Bonnie, who is not a fan.
Ramer's lawyers had argued that the book was meant as a humorous spoof and was therefore protected by fair use. They also said Paramount had never before sued over an unauthorized parody or novel and that many such books have been readily available at "Star Trek" conventions and retail outlets for years.
Ramer's 217-page guide describes characters from the original "Star Trek" television series and the subsequent "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and "Star Trek: Voyager."
Chapters have such titles as "The Aliens, or Why Do they All have Weird Foreheads?" and "Technobabble, or What the Hell is Warp, Anyway?"
The book gives advice on "really cool things to say to your Trekker" and lists the show's greatest episodes.
The cover notes that the book was not authorized by any entity involved in creating "Star Trek."
Complete text of Judge's ruling
Last year I assisted a prop maker named Richard Coyle whom Paramount sued for making a small number of beautifully detailed prop replicas of phasers, tricorders, communicators, etc. that he sold at cons and online. Coyle, who himself worked as a prop master for several of the Star Trek movies until health problems derailed his career, is a lifelong Trekker and talented artisan who sold his creations for over 15 years with Paramount's tacit approval. In any event, Coyle satisifed an unmet fan need by selling products that Paramount never itself licensed for sale until recently, and he certainly neither diverted nor diluted profits from Paramount. If anything, his creations brought nothing but positive publicity to the Star Trek franchise.
On several occasions Coyle even sought a license and offered to pay royalties so he could have the studio's seal of approval. Paramount ignored him until it unleashed its lawyers on him with a 1.2 million dollar copyright and trademark infringement suit in New York.
When I first heard about the case, I felt badly toward Coyle, but figured that technically Paramount had him dead to rights. As I learned more, I discovered that Paramount hired someone to pose as a collector in New York and order one of his props online. After the sale was completed, Paramount was able to file suit in New York City, over 3,000 miles from Coyle's home in Phoenix, Arizona. This sham "purchase" was engineered solely to manufacture jurisdiction in an inaccessible forum for a man of Coyle's modest means. Essentially, Coyle would be unable to defend himself and forced to endure a default judgment.
I found this sort of "scorched earth" litigation heavy handed, and when I learned that Coyle was a diehard fan whose entire adolescence and adulthood was consumed by his devotion to Star Trek, I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of outrage over Paramount's willingness to run roughshod over individual fans in the name of "protecting" its intellectual property rights.
This was corporate venality and shortsightedness at its absolute worst, and I immediately volunteered my services to Coyle free of charge. Though I was probably no match for Paramount's fancy New York lawyers, eventually I was able to prove enough of a nuisance to compel the studio to agree to a settlement much more favorable to Coyle, and we got him out with his skin intact.
Following the Coyle lawsuit, I came to learn of Paramount's crackdown on fan-made Websites, and Luca Sambucci's well-organized response, the Online Freedom Federation ("OFF"). Soon thereafter I became OFF's full-time volunteer legal counsel.
Paramount's ingratitude toward Star Trek fans, its intolerance toward modest commercial and even nonprofit fan activities, and its general mishanding of the Star Trek franchise demonstrate an appalling lack of good business judgment. The fan backlash has been considerable, and we can only hope that Paramount comes to its collective corporate senses before it runs the venerable Star Trek franchise into the ground.
As OFF's legal advisor, I have been striving to find the common ground between the Star Trek's corporate custodians and one of the largest fan advocacy groups on the Internet. Thus, I was particularly dismayed to learn about Sam Ramer's legal troubles, and I fear that Paramount will just never understand the incalculable damage it continues to wreak on Star Trek by indiscriminately setting its phasers on sue.
In any event, I write to express support for Sam in his struggle, both personally and on behalf of OFF. Please feel free to forward this message to both Sam and Mr. Friedman, who are invited to contact me by e-mail at JHyphen@aol.com or email@example.com.
Please continue to encourage visitors to your site to follow the link to OFF, and I invite you to check out my own Website. In fact, interested readers can check out my successful legal brief in the Coyle case.
Thanks for your time, and keep up the good work. You have a most entertaining and informative site.
"The Joy of Trek" is about to become famous, because Paramount is suing over it. In the first lawsuit over a Star Trek book in the United States, Paramount brought a federal law suit against the publisher (and me!) and wants the book pulled off the shelves. If they succeed, they will probably move to pull other "unauthorized" books (that is, books by fans just talking about the show). After 30 years of allowing fans to publish unauthorized books, Paramount has apparently decided that they no longer need the fans to promote Star Trek.
Paramount won't settle. They won't negotiate. They want to kill the book. They want to restrict the reading choices of Trek fans to what Paramount thinks they should read.
Entertainment Weekly will be doing an article about the suit in their May 8th issue (check the column called "Between the Lines," page 67). Other news agencies are interested.
As a loyal Trek fan, I'm disgusted at these tactics designed to chill speech. Maybe other fans will be, too. Would you mention it on your website? I would be appreciative. Perhaps you could list the addresses of the Viacom executives for people to write and complain.
The preliminary hearing will take place in New York, in Federal District Court, Justice Sam Conte, on May 5, 1998. It's open to the public. A well- known first amendment law professor, Leon Friedman, will be fighting on my behalf. We will be arguing that Paramount has abandoned its copyrights because they have never sued on behalf of copyright infringement. Wish us luck.
I do not agree with what Paramount is doing. If you feel the same way, send your letters to the following people and please be polite:
The phone number is (212) 258-6352
FAX number is (212) 258-6464
Keep an eye on this page for more information, as it becomes available.
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