Does Joseph Kahn’s Power/Rangers “Fan” Film Fall Under Fair Use

The latest news to be blowing up the interwebs today is the release of Joseph Kahn‘s “fan fiction” film “Power/Rangers.”

Kahn is a multi award-winning music video director who along with producer Adi Shankar, made what is being called a “dark and gritty” version of the campy Saban Entertainment franchise.

A NSFW version was on Vimeo but at the request of Saban, Vimeo removed it. Kahn had a number of tweets aimed at Vimeo regarding the incident.

A LOT of other people chimed in on that tweet agreeing with Kahn. But here’s the thing,

  1. Vimeo took it down because they got a copyright DMCA notice from the copyright holder, so they had to comply. (Click here to read their official response to the issue).
  2. But more importantly, I’m not so sure this really constitutes fair use.

I’ll go on record and say that I am not an attorney. But I have studied this issue quite a bit over the years, and there are a few key parameters a judge will look at to determine if a piece of work constitutes fair use:

  • Is there profit involved for the creator of the work
  • Is the income of the copyright holder affected
  • Is the piece educational in nature, or can it represent news
  • Is the piece a satirical critique or commentary on the original copyrighted work

Copyright cases regarding fair use are never cut and dry. They always come under the discretion of the judge. And you usually have to fulfill ALL of the parameters (or nearly all of them) if you want to be cleared. For those reasons, I think Saban has a strong case against Kahn regarding this film.

  1. Kahn may not have been paid for the film, but you don’t have to be a Harvard business graduate to know that a film like this, and the publicity it’s getting, will be worth more to him long-term than any director fee he would’ve earned. Heck, we as filmmakers make these kind of films all the time precisely for the marketing value they bring. All an attorney has to do is add up the press impressions Kahn has gotten on sites like Mashable, i09, HitFlix, and pretty much every major tech, sci-fi and movie website and calculate what ads on those sites would cost to come up with a figure.
  2. It’s obviously not an educational of “news” item.
  3. Lastly, I don’t think this kind of film really qualifies as a “commentary” on Power Rangers, or even a parody. It is a serious drama using the characters from the universe. In Kahn’s own words, he made it because he wanted to see a “good” Power Rangers film; not as a critique or commentary.
As of this writing, the video has over 7 million views in just a little over 24 hours.
As of this writing, the video has over 7 million views in just a little over 24 hours.

Copyright Holders Rights Should Be Protected

It’s easy for all of us film geeks to sit in front a screen and revel at the production value and sheer awesomeness of a film like this. And the film geeks in us get pissed off when “The Man” takes down such an amazing achievement.

But, we as artists need to be careful what we champion…

For the most part, copyright holders support and even encourage fan fiction. But if that fiction goes against the brand of the art in question, the copyright holder should have the right to have it removed, no matter how annoying or frustrating it may be even to the very fans for which it was made. And we as artists should actually be defending that right, not fighting against it. Lest one day someone takes one of the intellectual properties WE created and does something with it we don’t like.

Let me be clear: I believe we should always have the right to create works of art based on copyrighted material that truly satirizes or offers valuable commentary or critique. I just don’t think this film does that. Do you?

What say you?

P.S. FWIW, I thought the video was brilliant. Loved the ending. I was never a fan of the original PR. They were painfully bad and campy. But, I think a dark and gritty version could have been created with Saban’s blessing. Marvel and DC have effectively done it with properties like The Avengers and Batman. (Albeit, it probably wouldn’t have been as “viral” without the controversy).

6 thoughts on “Does Joseph Kahn’s Power/Rangers “Fan” Film Fall Under Fair Use

  1. Good thing i watched the vimeo version the day it came out.
    A quick skim through the Youtube version, it’s still got all the violence and cursing, they just didn’t have nudity?

    I think Saban’s main reason would be they don’t want their IP to be taken to such a different level especially since their main audience are still kids.

    DC apparently gives their blessings to filmmakers to make fan films, but I’m sure if someone made a controversial short that goes viral… say Batman and Robin in an underage relationship… I’m sure DC will want that taken down too.

    1. I totally agree with you Bernard. 100%. Ideally, it would be great if copyright holders created publicized guidelines for fan fiction (books or films), sort of like the guidelines that agencies create for the brand clients. Then fans could make their fiction to their hearts’ content without fear of reprisals.

      The issue comes down to how a copyright holder wants his/her IP represented in the public. Your Batman and Robin example is excellent. Someone could make a very high production film and powerful story about a story like that, and DC should have every right to have it removed.

      Thanks for joining the conversation.

  2. What I find interesting is that in an interview Kahn is quoted as saying:

    “It’s funny… I’ve seen repurposed stuff on the Internet where they take a property that’s serious and make it even more so, like a Batman fan film or something like that, or a video game or whatever. I’ve actually seen stuff like where they’ve taken ridiculous stuff like Mario Brothers and then tried to make the dark and gritty version, and they obviously play it for laughs.

    I think the trick that I really wanted to do with this was to make that dark and gritty version that everybody keeps talking about, but really do it. Really see if I could totally accomplish it with essentially a really incredible incredibly silly property.”

    So does it not count as satire because we didn’t get it? I think a lot of times we automatically view parodies in the light of a Weird Al album…that they have to be silly. But a parody is any imitative work created to comment on an original work. Kahn seems to fall firmly into this category.

    That being said I completely agree with the fact that he will profit from the publicity on this. Immensely.

    1. Thanks for the great reply Andrew. I hear what you’re saying. But I don’t see how this particular film is commenting on the original. There is one line in the film where Van Der Beek’s character says something about the dangers of training children to be killers. I think that is the strongest case they would have for this particular story being a commentary on the original property. You could probably also make the case of the black guy’s “kid karate” videos being a critique on the original property. But IMHO, those seem weak. Both of those lines/scenes are kind of throw-aways. The crux of this story is about revenge, ambition, love and opportunity. Those are all great themes and this film is so well done in that regard. I just don’t see the whole as a commentary on the original PR. I don’t feel you come away from this film in deep reflection about what the original PR was about.

      I think if the story focused on the “training kids” to kill aspect, there would be much stronger argument for this as satire on the original PR. For instance, what if the storyline centered around a new team of Rangers being recruited and the old team trying to stop it because of what it turned them into. Make the focus the Power Rangers existence and its affect on children. You could introduce a whole meta element where the commentary is both on kids in the universe being affected by the Rangers program, and kids in real life being affected by shows like PR. THAT to me would scream “fair use” and critical commentary.

      What do you think?

  3. I don’t think it is a commentary on the original Power Rangers as much as a commentary on Hollywood’s need to darken and grit up everything through reboots. In that respect it is parody…perhaps just not parody exclusively about Power Rangers. To me, in a short film with a couple long fight sequences, those few lines you mentioned did a lot to convey a deeper meaning and story to the film. Honestly it felt like the end or beginning of a much larger movie…which would be cool 😀

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