A legal battle is brewing over the rights of filmmakers to make fan videos based on the copyrighted works of others. Music video director Joseph Kahn, who posted a 14-minute Power Rangers take-off last night that quickly went viral, says he’s being “harassed” by Haim Saban, who owns rights to the franchise and is jointly producing his own Power Rangers film with Lionsgate.
The short film, produced by Adi Shankar (an executive producer on Lone Survivor and A Walk Among The Tombstones) and Jil Hardin and co-written by Kahn, Dutch Southern and star James Van Der Beek, was posted on YouTube and Vimeo. Katee Sackhoff also stars. As of now, it’s still up on YouTube and has jumped from 716,000 views to 1.4 million views in an hour. Vimeo took it down today after receiving a copyright takedown complaint from Saban Brands.
“Vimeo is the host for your videos,” the site told Kahn in an email today, “and as a host for user-generated content we are fully compliant with the notice and takedown provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It looks like your video was removed due to a copyright infringement claim by: Tim Quinlan, SCG Power Rangers LLC.”
Quinlan had no comment, and sources say that Lionsgate is aware of the brouhaha and watching from the sidelines but at this point staying out of the fight. Shankar also has a separate Q&A that uses Power Rangers footage on his personal video blog.
“Saban is trying to shut Power/Rangers down,” Kahn tweeted. “If you’d like to keep watching, tell them to stop harassing me.” In separate tweets, Kahn laid out his legal defense. “Every image in Power/Rangers is original footage. Nothing was pre-existing. There is no copyrighted 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. Is it illegal to give pic I drew of a character on a napkin to someone for free? No.”
Then, in a tweet to Saban, he added: “The world is watching your actions right now.”
A top entertainment industry copyright attorney, who asked not to be identified, told Deadline that “there is a gray area of ‘fan fiction’ where tributes are made by fans and the studios don’t want to piss off their base by going after these people legally. The guy may have a fair use defense, or a de minimis use defense. It’s not a slam dunk by either side. Trademark law applies as well.”
The so called “fair use doctrine” allows a certain amount of free use of copyrighted material. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, “The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission.” It notes, however, that one of the key tests in determining fair use is “whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.”
“I just wanted to make Power Rangers good for once,” Kahn told Deadline. “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.”
Kahn said that the lavishly produced project, which has the added distinction of being set partly in North Korea, took him nine months to finish and seven days to shoot.