A 14-minute Power Rangers fan video starring James Van der Beek and Katee Sackhoff that received more than 12 million YouTube views in two days has been yanked off the site after a copyright challenge by owner Saban Brands. The short film’s producer is now vowing to put up a legal fight.
The Power/Rangers video was posted Tuesday on YouTube and Vimeo and was almost immediately taken down from Vimeo after the site received a complaint from billionaire Haim Saban’s company, which owns the Power Rangers franchise and is mounting a feature film at Lionsgate. But it quickly became a viral hit on YouTube, which gave it a copyright strike under the Google-owned site’s automated copyright protection system. “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 Deadline.
The process at YouTube when dealing with such disputes is to remove the video or videos in question once the company has received what’s called a “complete takedown notice” from the party claiming infringement. This is technically the beginning of a legal process. The creator of the disputed material has the legal recourse to file what’s called a counter-notification to reinstate the removed video. That then goes to the party claiming infringement and if the two sides can’t work it out, it goes to court — as will likely be the case here.
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.”
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 told 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.
“I hope they come to an awareness of how modern pop culture works. The audience will pay for the franchise, but they want to play with it as well. You can’t just dictate that these are the things you are going to watch in the way we want you to watch it. That’s not the way society works anymore. If you want the support of the modern fandom, you need to let them participate.”
Fan videos pose tricky legal and public relations problems for copyright holders. A top entertainment copyright attorney told Deadline “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.”
In certain cases, the so called “fair use doctrine” allows a limited 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.” One test is whether or not the “fair use” of copyrighted material is designed to make a profit.
Kahn insists that his short film was strictly a not-for-profit project.
“Every image in Power/Rangers is original footage,” he tweeted Tuesday.“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.”
“I just wanted to make a 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.”