Update 11:20PM ET: The film is now back online following a deal between its creators and Saban, which holds the rights to Power Rangers.
The dark and violent Power/Rangers short film watched by millions was pulled from YouTube yesterday in response to a copyright claim from a subsidiary of Saban, which owns the rights to Power Rangers. The short film, which was distributed for free and made without permission of Saban, was previously pulled from Vimeo. "To all the viewers that enjoyed this film, I consider this an outright infringement on freedom of expression and individualism," Power/Rangers producer Adi Shankar says in a statement responding to the latest takedown. Shankar notes that the video is still available to watch on Facebook. He personally thanks Mark Zuckerberg for that.
"This film is a homage to the original creators of the Power Rangers."
Power/Rangers may have been destined to play out this way. As Polygon notes in a look at the legal issues surrounding fan films, the fact that Shankar isn't profiting off of this short and didn't use any existing footage doesn't simply allow him to get around Saban's copyright. The characters and names used in Power/Rangers belong to Saban, and Shankar may have to prove that his short is commenting on the franchise in some way to make fair use of it. Whether Power/Rangers is doing that is, certainly, questionable. It's nothing like the Power Rangers you remember, but dark, violent adaptations of existing properties aren't exactly unusual, either.
Shankar argues that what he's created is, in fact, a parody. "This film is a homage to the original creators of the Power Rangers, and a parody of a television series we all grew up loving," he says. That's about all of the detail that Shankar goes into, but if Saban pushes this further — and if Shankar really wants to keep this up for the world to see — someone is going to have to elaborate on his argument.
For now, you can't blame YouTube and Vimeo for not listening. Deadline points out that both sites are just following the rules of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act: when they receive a takedown request, they pull the video to avoid liability; the uploader is welcome to dispute the claim, but it may mean going to court. That means, while the video is up on Facebook for now, that could be Saban's next stop, and Shankar won't be able to do much about it. At that point, it'll be up to the two sides to find a resolution.
"It’s a terrible precedent to set."
"Films like my Power/Rangers 'Bootleg' are vital expressions of creativity in our troubled world," Shankar says. "If we suppress this creativity and become passive participants in the consumption of the culture we live in, we implicitly allow a dangerous precedent to be set for the future of the internet." Notably, Shankar has made three other "bootleg" shorts, all of which remain online.
Shankar intends to fight Saban's takedown requests, according to Deadline. "It’s fair use and there are numerous fans films on YouTube," Ashwant Akula Venkatram, Shankar's attorney, tells Deadline. "It’s a terrible precedent to set."
Saban just pulled POWER/RANGERS off Youtube. Bad day for free speech, fair use, and Fandom in general.— Joseph Kahn (@JosephKahn) February 26, 2015
Joseph Kahn, the short film's director, also calls this "a huge blow for fandom" and a poor decision on Saban's part. "I hope they come to an awareness of how modern pop culture works," he tells Deadline. "The audience will pay for the franchise, but they want to play with it as well." Kahn argues that companies can no longer dictate what people watch and how they watch it. "If you want the support of the modern fandom," he says, "you need to let them participate."