Even if you’re using a comically oversized, sparkly weapon to do it, stabbing yourself in the foot is still stabbing yourself in the foot. But that seems to be the route that billionaire Haim Saban and his company are taking in the dispute over Power/Rangers, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers fan film created and directed by music video director Joseph Kahn. Perhaps Saban Entertainment will soon overdub their legal action into different languages, so that people throughout the world can call them morons.
The brouhaha began earlier this week, when Kahn released his fourteen-minute fan film Power/Rangers, a technically impressive reimagining of the children’s television show as a dark, gritty dystopian adventure. (This is also one of the only times in history that a “dark, gritty” reboot of a candy-colored children’s entertainment property wasn’t a terrible idea.) Within two days the video received more than 12 million hits on YouTube, a number also known as “holy shit, that’s impressive”. The legal issues were discussed when we first reported on the story, but the gist of the debate is whether the film is covered under “fair use” doctrine, which permits a limited public use of copyrighted material. As a copyright lawyer tells Deadline, there’s no clear point of demarcation in these cases: Most companies choose to ignore fan films, allowing them to thrive rather than risk drawing the ire of the very fanbase that supports their properties.
However, in this case YouTube simply followed standard protocol by pulling the short film, much as Vimeo had already done earlier in the week. Anytime the streaming site receives a “complete takedown notice” from a party claiming infringement, it complies, and the creator of the material can file a counter-request to have their work reinstated. If the two parties can’t resolve the dispute, it goes to court, and for the time being at least, this seems headed in that direction.
Of course, that all depends on Saban, and whether the company realizes that it’s being—and we’re using the precise legal term here—a “total douchenozzle.” And Kahn, for his part, seems to have a fairly smart take on the whole thing, his obvious interest in the whole fracas notwithstanding:
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.
One of the standard questions in these cases is whether the party that created the material did it for profit. Kahn swears that his film is wholly not-for-profit, having financed the entire thing himself with nary a Kickstarter in sight. Also, the film uses no pre-existing images or footage other than what he shot himself—nothing that might raise other red flags, legally. All of which makes him wonder why there’s even a problem: “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. Is it illegal to give pic I drew of a character on a napkin to someone for free? No.” Indeed, it’s just like a picture on a napkin, if the napkin was filmed with incredibly expensive equipment and then held by popular actors James Van Der Beek and Katie Sackhoff.
Happily, if you’re new to this whole conflict and didn’t get a chance to see the film before it was pulled down, you’re not out of luck. Facebook is still hosting the video on producer Adi Shankar’s page, where it has more than 131,000 views thus far. “Thank you Mark Zuckerberg for hosting Power/Rangers and taking a stand,” Shankar says in a note to the Facebook CEO. The producer also told Deadline that “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.”
So far, no one seems to be taking up our eminently reasonable suggestion of hiring Kahn and Shankar to make the feature film version already in development. Haim Saban has yet to comment publicly, but The A.V. Club has discovered the following footage of what it is pretty sure is Saban dealing with the whole Power/Rangers situation. He seems like a pretty reasonable guy.
UPDATE: It appears that, once again, the collective scorn of the Internet has pushed things in the right direction. (God help us all.) As of now, the Power/Rangers short film is back up on both Vimeo and YouTube. Now would apparently be the time to stand in front of Haim Saban and yell, “Also, nerds are angry that you haven’t given me a million dollars!”