You may remember a certain fan film floating around a week or two back involving one of our most treasured childhood properties: the Power Rangers. The film itself popped up on Vimeo, YouTube, and Facebook, checking in at 17 minutes and starring James Van Der Beek and Katee Sackhoff. In it, we see a darker version of the once-bright franchise.
The Black Ranger is seen doing lines coke in bed with supermodels. The Red and Pink Rangers see their wedding day interrupted in a fit of Kill Bill-esque violence. In all, it’s equal parts hilarious and entertaining for fans and newcomers alike. So why was it taken down within days of its release?
The initial reason was simple enough: Saban, the company that currently holds the rights to the Power Rangers, demanded its takedown. Despite claims from director Joseph Kahn that his work fell under the parody protection part of copyright laws, both YouTube and Vimeo wasted no time removing it anyway.
This in turn led to something we’ve never seen before. Fans rallied around the film, petitioning both services to allow its return the Internet. After seeing this massive show of support, Saban relented, allowing it once again be available to stream.
But the most shocking aspect of this isn’t simply that fans got the movie back on YouTube — it’s how they got it back on YouTube, setting a precedent for all fan films. Despite Kahn’s claims that fair use and parody protected him, Saban was well within it rights to defend its intellectual property.
Saban had the law on its side, and yet the company still caved. Why? Kahn noted the reason in an interview with io9, saying that, “in a nutshell, the internet screamed so loud everyone around the world heard it.”
From what we’ve been able to find, Saban didn’t receive any additional money, instead stipulating conditions that included an age gate and added disclaimers in the video itself. But that was it: no lengthy, drawn-out lawsuits, and no out-of-court settlements for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead, it was a huge win for the little guy, who was out to simply create art rather than profit from it.
What does this mean for the world of fan films moving forward? First and foremost, it shows that if you make something that people like enough, not even the original owners of the rights can resist pressure from fans. In the end, they’re subject to the will of fans who buy their product, and if those fans are displeased to the tune of millions of people, submitting to their will is virtually inevitable.
Of course, this likely won’t fly for all fan films — not every one of the works is a winner, and oftentimes these films pale in comparison to their source material. Even Kahn is hesitant to support poorly made work, responding to the question of whether he liked other fan fiction with a resounding “Fuck no“: “I can barely stand a lot of mainstream blockbuster movies as is. Why watch stuff that’s even sloppier than the professional sloppy stuff already out there?”
However, the biggest barrier to fan reboots has been blown wide open. Anyone who can produce a high-quality version of his or her own that paints source material in a new, intriguing light can very likely see it defended by an army of loyal supporters. Perhaps the days of petty lawsuits over intellectual property have in some ways come to an end.
Or maybe they haven’t, but the groundwork has been laid and the chips are down. Fans could very well see a future in which they come out on top more often than the people in suits.