Swedish authorities have taken down user-created subtitle site undertexter.se and seized the company’s computers and servers.
Undertexter.se allows users to share subtitles and contribute their own translations of TV and movie dialogue. The service is intended to help people with hearing difficulties or those who want to watch a TV programme or film in their home language.
Since the raid on July 9, the Undertexter website has displayed a message from company founder Eugen Archy saying: “No Hollywood, here you pulled the wrong card. We will never give up, we live in a free country and Swedish people have every right to publish your own interpretation of a movie [unofficial translation].”
Pirate Bay founder Rick Falkvinge said on falkvinge.net that fan-subtitling is a “thriving” culture, which can provide “better than professional” subtitles for TV programmes or films much faster than the provider of the original work, which “can easily take six months or more”.
He said: “What’s remarkable about this raid is that the copyright industry has decided to do a full-out raid against something that is entirely fan-made.
“It underscores the general sentiment of the copyright monopoly not protecting the creator of artwork, but protecting the big distribution monopolies, no matter who actually created the art.”
In a statement on its website, the Swedish Pirate Party said it was “outraged” about the raid.
Swedish Pirate Party leader Anna Troberg said in a statement: “Today’s monopoly scuttles and inhibits creativity in a way that is completely unreasonable. The raid against undertexter.se is yet another piece of evidence that the time has come to reform the copyright monopoly from the ground up.”
Peder Oxhammar, head of IP in Baker & McKenzie’s Stockholm office, said there are no specific copyright laws to protect subtitles and their translations, but noted that artistic works such as TV programmes and films can be broken down into copyright-protectable components.
“There are many aspects of a film that can be protected as a work of art,” he said, including the dialogue.
He said the main point at issue is whether the act of translating an original text into a subtitle file is an infringing activity.
“Frankly, I don’t think the law is entirely clear on this,” he said. “The prosecutor has at least decided that it is interesting enough to start a preliminary investigation.” He added that the seizure of the website will not necessarily lead to prosecuting or sentencing those involved.
Oxhammar continued: “The Copyright Act in many countries is based on the work of art being a work of literature,” he said. “In this context, the law could not foresee this problem.”
This article was first published on 11 July 2013 in World IP Review
undertexter.se, translation, subtitles, copyright infringement