When Fans become Creators: It’s Morphin Time!

A brief look at the legal aspects of fan creations through the example of the recent "Power/Rangers" short film.
April 12, 2015

The unauthorized and hardcore (it’s even in the title now) version of the Power Rangers[1], seen in a short from the director Joseph Kahn and starring James Van Der Beek and Katee Sackhoff, garnered a lot of Hollywood buzz in the last few weeks as well as a number of complaints from the rights owner of the Power Rangers franchise, Haim Saban.[2] Kahn argued that the fan film creation “Power/Rangers” utilized an entirely original and non-copyrighted footage, and it was intended to be given away for free since no money was made from it[3] Nevertheless, bowing to copyright claim challenges from Haim Saban’s company, Saban Brands, the short was initially pulled off of YouTube and Vimeo websites.[4] Notably, Saban is currently producing a feature film reboot of the Power Rangers franchise at Lionsgate Entertainment.[5] Reportedly, the parties in dispute over the short eventually came to an agreement, signed certain contracts and added disclaimers; the film is now back up online.[6]

However, the “Power/Rangers” episode illustrates a common challenge for copyright and trademark owners in a world of viral videos and iPhone film Sundance nominees. One man’s fan creation is often another’s infringement. Such concerns have not been strictly limited to the film industry either, as tribute bands[7] and cover songs[8] have elicited their own complaints and legal action in the music world and literary fiction lawsuits have proliferated.[9]

Meanwhile, given the very worthwhile goals and creativity of many of these fan works, the courts and legislatures have not come up with a good solution. As a result, the legal protection of such rights has been left uncertain, creating loads and loads of “gray works,”[10] stuck somewhere in between infringement and normalcy. This legal silence results in its own difficulties for both sides, with the owners attempting to protect their rights without aggravating their fan base[11] and the fans not knowing where to draw the line.

Various ways of resolving the situation have been proposed, but none have particularly taken hold.[12] Some possible suggestions have included revising the joint works doctrine, compulsory licensing applied beyond music and even further limiting the copyright term.[13] Scholars have looked into these and a lot of other options in depth, and as often is the case, there are positives and negatives to all. While no solution is likely to ever fully resolve the conflicts that may develop from fan creations, picking some approach of tackling these challenges would certainly go a long way.

By the way, don’t forget to check out the “Power/Rangers” film itself:

http://youtu.be/vw5vcUPyL90?list=PL3764A3CF482DA559

 

 


[1] Power/Rangers: Unauthorized and Hardcore (Bootleg Universe) - YouTube, (last visited Mar. 10, 2015),

http://youtu.be/vw5vcUPyL90?list=PL3764A3CF482DA559.

[2] Gritty ‘Power Rangers’ Reboot Fights Legal Battle With Rights Holder, TubeFilter.com, (last visited Mar. 10, 2015),

http://www.tubefilter.com/2015/02/25/power-rangers-fan-film-legal/.

[3] Id. (establishing the fair use defense elements via Twitter statuses).

[4] Power Rangers Fan Video Yanked From YouTube; Filmmakers Vow To Fight, Deadline.com, (last visited Mar. 10, 2015),

http://deadline.com/2015/02/power-rangers-youtube-video-removed-joseph-kahn-1201382423/.

[5] Id.

[6] Power Rangers Bootleg Fan Film Returns To YouTube, Vimeo, Deadline.com, (last visited Mar. 10, 2015),

http://deadline.com/2015/02/power-rangers- bootleg-fan-film-returns-vimeo-youtube-1201383403/.

[7] Podcast: Tribute Bands, Business, Entertainment, Sports and Technology Law (June 3, 2014) (downloaded using

iTunes).

[8] NMPA Sues YouTube Network Fullscreen Over Copyrights, Law360.com, (last visited Mar. 10, 2015),

http://www.law360.com/articles/462998/nmpa-sues-youtube-network-fullscreen-over-copyrights.

[9] See Salinger v. Colting, 607 F.3d 68, 68-84 (2d Cir. 2010); See also Anderson v. Stallone, No. 87-0592 WDKGX, 1989 WL

206431 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 25, 1989).

[10] Kenneth R. L. Parker, Gray Works: How the Failure of Copyright Law to Keep Pace with Technological Advancement in the

Digital Age Has Created A Class of Works Whose Protection Is Uncertain . . . and What Can Be Done About It, 21 J. Intell.

Prop. L. 268, 268-269 (2014).

[11] Power Rangers Fan Video Yanked From YouTube; Filmmakers Vow To Fight, Deadline.com, (last visited Mar. 10, 2015),

http://deadline.com/2015/02/power-rangers-youtube-video-removed-joseph-kahn-1201382423/.

[12] See Parker, supra note 10, at 299.

[13] Id.

Alexander Gorelik

is a third year evening J.D. candidate with an interest in pretty much anything related to copyright, trademark, and entertainment law. During the day, he works negotiating and writing contracts and on the weekends he tries to stay involved with Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (MDVLA). In his spare time, he particularly enjoys deep conversations, long walks on the beach and is a huge supporter of world peace.