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,
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- It’s obviously not an educational of “news” item.
- 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.
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).