Q: I've recently discovered "The Orville," and there are a lot of similarities with other series. Have there been any issues with the creators of "Star Trek" or other shows around copyright?

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Adam Thomlison / TV Media

You aren't the first person to wonder about this, but "The Orville's" network, Fox, isn't worried.

"We're not really concerned," Fox CEO Dana Walden said in response to this question (but specifically about "Star Trek") at a 2017 press tour shortly before the show premiered. "We obviously have a big legal team. We vet things, so it's not like we're just flying by the seat of our pants out here."

That's the short answer. The longer answer is that "The Orville" is (in her words) a "loving" parody of "Star Trek," and there are protections for that sort of thing in copyright law.

Parody of pre-existing content is permitted under U.S. copyright law -- the idea generally being that such things are good for the public discourse.

However, Walden focused more on the "loving" element.

"[Creator Seth MacFarlane's] intention is to do something that clearly pays homage to 'Star Trek,' that clearly was inspired a lot by 'Star Trek,'" Walden said. "I can't imagine, especially when you see the direction that the Star Trek franchise is moving, that anyone involved would consider it anything other than a compliment."

She also pointed out that "most shows have some DNA of previous shows."

That's another interesting thing to consider in this case: to what degree would any space-travel show feel like a "Star Trek" ripoff? It wasn't the first of the genre (that honor goes to the 1949 series "Captain Video and His Video Rangers"), but it very much created the mold for what followed.

"The Orville" certainly borrows specifically from "Star Trek" -- it doesn't try to hide it, as Walden says -- but at the same time, "Star Trek's" producers might feel silly trying to claim copyright over phaser guns or the general idea of space exploration.


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