[UPDATE 2-27-15 9:40pm] — Legal representatives for Saban Brands and Adi Shankar have reached an agreement that allows Power/Rangers to return to Vimeo and YouTube.
The full NSFW version is on Vimeo with a disclaimer from Shankar that reads, “Deboot of the Power Rangers. My take on the FAN FILM. Not a pilot, not a series, not for profit, strictly for exhibition. This is a bootleg experiment not affiliated or endorsed by Saban Entertainment or Lionsgate nor is it selling any product. I claim no rights to any of the characters (don’t send me any money, not kickstarted, this film is free). This is the NSFW version. An alternate safe version is on YouTube.”
The slightly less NSFW version on YouTube now has an age restriction on the video.
Kahn tells Deadline, “They put these disclaimers on so kids so don’t confuse our super-violent film with their Power Rangers brand. There are no hard feelings. We signed contracts. We can play it anywhere we want on all platforms. I think they realized that people just want to see it.”
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The 14-minute Power Rangers fan film starring James Van der Beek and Katee Sackhoff has touched off a firestorm of debate surrounding the legality of the fan film, and the implications could be far-reaching.
Power/Rangers was posted to both YouTube and Vimeo on Tuesday, February 24, and quickly went viral. While it was taken down from Vimeo almost immediately, the YouTube version garnered more than 12 million views in two days before it, too, was removed. The video sites pulled the fan film after receiving copyright challenges from SCG Power Rangers, LLC, the company that owns the franchise.
As outlined in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, when a streaming video service receives such notice, it is required by law to remove the content. “When a copyright holder notifies us of a video that infringes their copyright, we remove the content promptly in accordance with the law,” a YouTube spokesperson told TheWrap on Thursday. DMCA counter-notification processes are available, which allows video producers to defend their right to post the video. Those counter-claims are forwarded to the company making the original copyright claim.
The attorney for Power/Rangers producer Adi Shankar says he plans to fight the decision. “The general counsel for Saban called me yesterday and he didn’t send a cease and desist and they went directly to YouTube,” said Ashwant Akula Venkatram. “It’s fair use and there are numerous fans films on YouTube. It’s a terrible precedent to set.”
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Shankar said he had also just received a cease-and-desist letter from Warner/Chappell Music, claiming he stole the Power Rangers theme.
Shankar says this video was “not a pitch” to be considered for an official production. It’s the fourth entry in Shankar’s Bootleg Universe project, which also features fan films starring The Punisher, Venom, and Judge Dredd. The idea, he says, has been with him since he was seven, when he first started to wonder what long-term effects teenagers would face after fighting as Power Rangers.
Several of the actual Power Rangers have weighed in. Jason David Frank, who played the original Green Ranger Tommy Oliver, said he was approached to participate in this film, but declined for various reasons. Not only is he working on his own fan project, but he also made sure to clarify that his project has the blessing of Saban. Frank also says he isn’t comfortable with the amount of material that’s not kid-friendly, noting that several incarnations of the Power Rangers can still be seen on Nickelodeon, and something like this too easily blurs the lines and could be seen by the wrong audience.
Former Black Ranger Walter Jones posted a somewhat non-committal reaction on his Facebook page. “I wont be posting the video of the Power Rangers deboot video because I still have fans that are kids,” Jones wrote. “I will say… I thought it was very well done and entertaining. I am looking foward to other interpretations of this amazing show. I am blessed to have had the pleasure of helping to create here in the states! Its Morphing Time!!”
On her Facebook page, Pink Ranger Amy Jo Johnson posted “Okay… so you’ve ALL probably seen this already. BUT just wanted to share. Personally I think it’s kind of awesome. BUT don’t tell Saban that!! I might get sued. [wink emoticon] And it’s clearly NOT for KIDS!!”
And the original Red Ranger, Austin St. John, says “The truth of the matter is that Haim Saban doesn’t care what any Power Ranger’s opinion is of his show. He just wants his show to be done the way he wants his show to be done. This was obviously not designed to be anything like the original show… It was designed to be dark. It was designed to be gritty.” And it was obviously not aimed at anyone looking for an homage to the genuine article. St. John had positive comments for the quality of the production. “It was like Star Trek ran into Power Rangers and added some Slaughterhouse mentality.”
None of the Rangers, however, have addressed the possible legal ramifications should this go to court.
Joseph Kahn, the music video director who directed the short film, said he is “very disappointed” that Saban has opted to turn his fan video into a legal battle. “I think it’s a huge blow for fandom,” he said to Deadline. “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.”
Despite their claims of “fair use” and “parody” in connection to the fan film, the debate wanders into legal grey areas when it comes to the copyright. Is the film an obvious parody? Does it fall into the “fair use” category?
And the bigger question is how this will impact fan films for other franchises. Lucasfilm has had its share of battles waged over Star Wars fan films before embracing them in a limited way with the fan film competition it’s bringing back. Marvel and DC have turned a somewhat blind eye to fan films, making copyright claims on a case-by-case basis when it seems the fan project has gone too far in any particular direction.
Certainly, many amateur producers will be watching how this plays out.