Here is an excellent essay that was recently posted in the Art Law Journal about the controversy over a short fan film about the Power Rangers.  Several producers decided to create their own version of the Power Rangers, and created a short film that they published over the internet.  Unlike the children’s show, this was a very dark, edgy and adult version of the Power Rangers.  When the copyright holders discovered that this film existed, they sent a cease and desist letter to the various websites on which the short film could be found.  When the film was removed, social media exploded.

What became clear was that nobody understood the concept of copyright infringement, particularly those on social media who vilified the copyright owners and websites who removed the film.  The essay above does an excellent job of explaining the background of the short film, and the various claims made by both parties and their misunderstanding of copyright law.

If you are ever interested in creating a work that involves pre-existing characters, you must be aware of the copyright implications.  Characters can carry both copyright and trademark protections.  The use of the Power Ranger characters, even in a completely original film that was vastly different in theme was still a copyright infringement.  Many fan fiction writers open themselves up to claims of copyright and trademark infringement should the owner decide to enforce his or her rights.  For example, fans who decided to write a Harry Potter encyclopedia were prevented from doing so because such a work clearly violated Rowlings’ copyright.  (And apparently she has written one herself, which will be released soon.)

Further, websites are required to remove potential infringing material when requested to do so in order to protect themselves against a claim of copyright infringement.  Again, this essay does an excellent job of explaining the legal obligations of website owners.