Go, Go Power Rangers! Or Cease and Desist
Last night, music video director Joseph Kahn posted a dark and grim fan video of the American franchise classic Power Rangers on YouTube and Vimeo. The highly-produced 14-minute film entitled “Power/Rangers” already has over 2.7 million views. Co-produced by Andy Shankar and Jil Hardin and co-written by Kahn, Dutch Southern, and star James Van Der Beek, the video took a week to film and nine months to finish. It’s by no means typical cheap fan fiction. This is a work in and of itself.
Though only live for a day, Vimeo took it down today after receiving a takedown notice from Saban Brands. Haim Saban owns the rights to the franchise and is jointly producing his own Power Rangers movie with Lionsgate that is set to premiere in 2016. There is no record of a formal cease and desist letter being sent to Shankar, but he is allegedly being “harassed” by Saban.
Joseph Kahn is letting the world know how he feels about this via Twitter. To him, the allegation of a copyright infringement is preposterous. “Every image in Power/Rangers is original footage in the short. I am not making any money on it and I refuse to accept any from anyone. It was not even Kickstarted, I paid for it myself. This was made to be given away for free. It is just as if I drew a pic of Power Rangers on a napkin and I gave it to my friend.”
Yes, Kahn and his co-creators may not be directly profiting from the video, but that’s not the only consideration. Fair use, a defense to copyright infringement, considers four factors: (1) the purpose and character of Kahn’s use of the original work; (2) the nature of the original work; (3) the amount and substantiality of the copyrighted work as a whole; and (4) the effect of Kahn’s use on the potential market for the copyrighted work.
Kahn’s sentiments are valid. He toiled over creating something unique and different from how the world has previously viewed the mighty morphin’ teenage fighters. He told Deadline, “I just wanted to make Power Rangers good for once. It’s kind of a silly franchise. It was an experiment in tone. It was a challenge. I took the silliest property I could think of and tried to see if I could make it serious enough.”
In that sense, the purpose and character of Kahn’s “Power/Rangers” is arguably transformative. He’s making a completely new use of a copyrighted work that has, until this point, been viewed as asinine and amateur. It also weighs in Kahn’s favor that he did not directly take any footage from a preexisting Power Rangers episode. Everything Kahn produced was original to him. Yet, Kahn’s work need not be exactly the same as Saban’s to be considered infringement. Substantial similarity between the two properties is enough to find infringement.
Moreover, Saban probably feels threatened that Kahn’s very well-made video steals the thunder from his 2016 version of the property. Likely, Saban will emphasize that Kahn’s “Power/Rangers” weakens the likelihood that his feature film will be a success. This is not a strong argument, though. If anything, a 14-minute film like Kahn’s will only resurrect excitement for a franchise that has been somewhat forgotten.
Fair use never provides a clear dividing line between right and wrong. Both sides have valid arguments to make. However, both the DL Reporter and Kahn suggest you check out the video for yourself now, before it’s removed from YouTube. Then, leave a comment below and tells us whether you think this a fair use and a great display of fan film, or whether it’s an impermissible taking and unauthorized manipulation of a property owner’s rights.