Updated at bottom of article
The gritty, violent Power Rangers short film that hit the interwebs a couple of days ago has now officially been pulled from YouTube over a copyright claim from Saban Brands. The 14-minute Power/Rangers offered a radically different take on the property, with Katee Sackhoff and James Van Der Beek filling the roles of the lead Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, albeit with more profanity and blood. The short was produced by Adi Shankar as part of his “Bootleg” collection of films based on known properties, which also include The Punisher: Dirty Laundry and Venom: Truth in Journalism.
While those two previous films were released without incident, when Power/Rangers was unveiled it was almost immediately taken down from Vimeo due to a copyright claim from Saban Brands, the company that owns the copyright to the Power Rangers franchise. Now today, after racking up over 12 million views, YouTube has also pulled the video from its site. As my colleague Evan pointed out, it’d be nice if YouTube would take such aggressive action against pirated content, but alas.
Shankar and the short’s director Joseph Kahn (Torque) were none too pleased about the action, and Shankar plans on fighting the claim in court, citing fair use. Speaking with Deadline, Kahn had this to say:
“I think it’s a huge blow for fandom. I think they’re hurting themselves. I think with this short they’ve gotten more attention than ever before. How do you break the Internet with the Power Rangers? I think it gave them a lot of publicity and revived its pop culture awareness. Instead of supporting the good will of the fans, they’ve turned it into a legal issue. It doesn’t sound like they’re thinking of the fandom at all.”
But does Power/Rangers qualify as a “fan film” given the pedigree of the talent involved? While copyright is owned by the copyright holder, the U.S. fair use doctrine allows for a limited amount of free use of copyrighted material. The distinction of this “limited amount” is a grey area, but generally speaking, fair use could be claimed if the makers of the non-sanctioned material did so without the intention of making a profit.
While some larger companies are known to let certain fan films slide in an effort to not alienate the fanbase (Lucasfilm was famously lax when under the purview of George Lucas), this specific matter pertaining to Power/Rangers is somewhat tricky. The film was indeed released for free and made available to everyone at no charge, but this isn’t some cheaply-made short put together in someone’s backyard. It features significant CG effects, name actors, and comes from a feature film director and producer team. They may not have explicitly made the short for professional gain, but its popularity raises the profile of all involved and could even be considered a sort of sizzle reel for Kahn. Does that qualify as intending for profit, or is the personnel behind said content inconsequential in the eyes of the law?
No doubt Power/Rangers put the property back into public consciousness in a big way, but Lionsgate has a new live-action Power Rangers movie in development with a significant budget, so it’s possible that Saban’s problem here isn’t misrepresenting the brand, but brand confusion. When it comes time to market their new Power Rangers movie, will audiences assume it has something to do with the gritty short film?
Essentially, this is a case of where to draw the line regarding fair use and what constitutes a “fan film,” and it’ll be interesting to see how this matter progresses once the lawyers get involved. It’s possible that a legal decision made down the road could have repercussions for the world of copyright and fair use at large, so this is certainly something to keep an eye on.
Update: Adi Shankar sent over a statement and it’s below along with a link to where you can now watch the short film.
Today, I was deeply disappointed to learn that Saban Brands decided to attack my Power/Rangers “Bootleg Universe One-Shot” film. To all the viewers that enjoyed this film, I consider this an outright infringement on freedom of expression and individualism. I set out to make this film because I am a childhood fan of the Power Rangers. As children our retinas are burned with iconic images and as we grow older these images come to represent crucial moments within the trajectories of our own lives. This film is a homage to the original creators of the Power Rangers, and a parody of a television series we all grew up loving. Films like my Power/Rangers “Bootleg” are vital expressions of creativity in our troubled world. If we suppress this creativity and become passive participants in the consumption of the culture we live in, we implicitly allow a dangerous precedent to be set for the future of the internet.
P.S. Thank you Mark Zuckerberg for hosting Power/Rangers and taking a stand https://www.facebook.com/theadishankarbrand