Some of you may have seen the “grimdark” Power Rangers fan film that has been circulating around the internet lately. It was produced by Adi Shankar, who has produced similar fan films involving copyrighted characters like Venom or The Punisher in the past. The underlying legal justification for doing so is fair use, but as this article from Polygon describes, the fact that these are fan films made with no expectation of profit may not be sufficient for the fair use exception to apply. Such films offer an interesting test case for the current scope of fair use in the USA, and hypothetically in Canada as well. A pullquote for you:
So the question is whether the Power Rangers short is providing any commentary or parody. The interesting wrinkle is that people online can’t seem to decide whether the director was poking fun at hyper-dark takes on kiddie subject matter, or being serious. Is this a story in the world of the Power Rangers, or is it making fun of the idea of an ultra-dark Power Rangers story?
“That is as much in the gray area as I could give as an example. One could view this as commentary, taking a broad view of this, you’re taking a kid’s cartoon and making it a much darker short, and you could say well, that’s commentary on the copyrighted work and the characters,” Newberg explained.
“The copyright owner could make a really decent argument as well that no, what you’re really doing is creating a new story with our copyrighted characters, and we are the ones who have the sole right to make derivative works.” While judges may decide issues of fair use if it’s clear cut, this is not one of those cases. It would likely go ahead to a jury.
“This is a law school exam-type question,” Newberg said.
Interesting, then, that the director of the short did not seem to speak to a lawyer before speaking to the press:
“What I really want to accomplish when you watch, is you should really take it seriously. There’s nothing playful except for maybe the Hip-Hop-Kido thing. Maybe a few little like motivational character [things], interactions and stuff. Overall, it’s a very serious thing,” Kahn said in an interview with HitFix.
Or perhaps they did, and this is just another example of the widening chasms between the law, technology and social norms in the digital space:
“The joke isn’t that you’re laughing at each particular scene; the joke is that we did this ‘fuck you’ thing in the first place. You’re going to look at it and you go wow I can’t believe they fucking did that.”