Student Fined For Providing Free Film And TV Subtitles; Yet Another Business Opportunity Thrown Away By Copyright Industries

from the cutting-nose-off-to-spite-the-face dept

Mike recently reminded us that for some people, bizarrely, stopping "piracy" is more important than making money. Here's another example, this time from Norway:

A student who ran a site which enabled the download of a million movie and TV show subtitle files has been found guilty of copyright infringement offenses. Despite it being acknowledged that the 25-year-old made no money from the three-year-old operation, prosecutors demanded a jail sentence. After struggling due to a lack of case law, in the end the court settle on a fine.
Note that no money changed hands, and there was no attempt to copy the work of others in any way. Instead, the student was simply meeting an evident need for Norwegian subtitles that the original creators and distributors of those films and TV shows didn't address.

So wouldn't the rational thing have been to embrace what this person was doing, and turn it into a commercial opportunity for both him and the studios? That way, the Norwegian public would be happy, because they would have official subtitles that they could use; the Norwegian distributors would be happy, because they could offer English-language shows; and the original producers would be happy, since they would be selling more of their films and TV shows to the Norwegian market, and sooner.

Instead, out of sheer vindictiveness it would seem, charges were pressed, and a jail sentence was "demanded". It's telling that no custodial sentence was in fact handed down, because the infringement was so minor, and the judge simply couldn't find any justification for doing so. That's a further hint that prosecuting this non-commercial activity was completely inappropriate.

But as TorrentFreak explains, it wasn't money that the studios were interested in, but something else -- keeping control:

Although relatively rare, US movie and TV studios have taken legal action against subtitling sites before. The reason they appear to get so annoyed by the existence of these sites is that they allow people abroad to watch movies and TV shows that due to licensing issues haven’t even arrived on their shores yet.
In other words, rather than adapt their business models to the changing times through simultaneous releases around the world, the copyright industries prefer to wield the blunt instrument of enforcement, however counterproductive that may be for everyone -- including themselves.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    techflaws (profile), Jun 26th, 2012 @ 10:15pm

    Note that no money changed hands, and there was no attempt to copy the work of others in any way

    That's not how I understand this bit:

    "In many cases the words contained in these files have been created by the movie and TV studios and just like their scripts, are considered valuable intellectual property."

    which means, he also offered subs ripped from DVDs/BDs rather than Fansubs translated by enthusiasts. Don't get me wrong, I think it's ridiculous to fine him but you know, the industry would rather charge you for watching Lost with hardcoded subs via iTunes.

     

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  2.  
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    Androgynous Cowherd, Jun 26th, 2012 @ 10:19pm

    Where's the Christing infringement here?!

    First of all, even supposing there was infringement, there was no commercial infringement, so being found guilty of criminal copyright infringement is completely out of bounds.

    And then ... what goddamn infringement? Oh, how do I find thee innocent, let me count the four factors:

    * Nature and character of the use: noncommercial and noncompeting, since by their own admission they weren't selling a Norwegian edition into that market themselves. Transformative -- changing copyrighted spoken dialogue in one language into textual subtitles in a different language surely qualifies.

    * Nature and character of the work: the work was published rather than unpublished; don't know if these works were factual or fictional in character and it probably doesn't matter.

    * Proportion of the work used: minuscule. The dialog in a movie represents what, 0.001% of the creative input into it? If that. Don't forget, subtitle files aren't copies of the movie with added subtitles, they're just the subtitles, by themselves -- only the text and timings of the subtitles. So nothing else was actually copied here but some of the movie's dialogue. And that in a transformative manner.

    * Effect on the market for the work: increased demand for the studios' product in Norway; no effect to speak of anywhere else, good or bad.

    Three out of four factors in favor and one more or less neutral. Textbook fair use. Not to mention, from a business perspective just plain stupid.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 26th, 2012 @ 10:22pm

    Re: Where's the Christing infringement here?!

    ...except Norway may not have the same fair use laws as the U.S.

     

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  4.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Jun 26th, 2012 @ 10:35pm

    Re:

    "...the words contained in these files..."

    That doesn't mean he ripped them from DVDs, that just means he listened to the audio and typed out what they were saying. They're saying he copied the words, not the files.

     

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  5.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), Jun 26th, 2012 @ 10:44pm

    It sounds like the real threat perceived by the industry was a weakening of their antiquated system of regional windows and national distributors. The Internet has made both relics, but the they are so engrained in Hollywood's corporate culture that no threats can be tolerated.

     

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  6.  
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    Androgynous Cowherd, Jun 26th, 2012 @ 10:45pm

    Re: Re: Where's the Christing infringement here?!

    They obviously should, if not even more expansive ones. And even if they don't, it's pretty hypocritical of Hollywood to exploit fair use at home (especially in documentaries) and then to exploit its lack/weakness abroad in going after this guy.

     

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  7.  
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    Androgynous Cowherd, Jun 26th, 2012 @ 10:47pm

    Re:

    Ah, but there is no "exclusive right to regional windowing" in the copyright law of any nation that I am aware of. If someone wants to parallel import from another country that's first sale. If someone wants to then make localized subtitle files that (ought to be) fair use.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 26th, 2012 @ 10:49pm

    Is his site still up? because if so, then the whole thing was futile on both sides

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 26th, 2012 @ 11:11pm

    How people allow others to gain a monopoly on even derivative works is just beyond belief.

     

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  10.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jun 27th, 2012 @ 12:02am

    Re: Re:

    You may know that, I may know that, now you just need to convince them of that.

     

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  11.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jun 27th, 2012 @ 12:34am

    So, there's now less reason for me to legally buy movies if my required language option isn't preinstalled by the manufacturer. Another act of deliberately refusing my purchase for wrong-headed reasons, well done.

    "movies and TV shows that due to licensing issues havenít even arrived on their shores yet"

    Yet another business model failing, of course. If these people adapted to the modern world instead of trying to enforce boundaries where none naturally exist, such release patterns would not be a factor and thus both demand and "criminal" enterprise eradicated.

    Also note: the "yet" in the above sentence isn't always there. Some films never get released. So, they block perfectly legal imports on the off-chance of a local release that never happens, thus refusing money via at least 2 avenues. Genius.

     

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  12.  
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    Mega1987 (profile), Jun 27th, 2012 @ 12:34am

    I wonder how many of them were hypocrites by watching some good western anime/movies that got subtitles on them and they're not even available in their country...

     

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  13.  
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    Fritzr (profile), Jun 27th, 2012 @ 12:37am

    Re: Re:

    Actually there is an "exclusive right to regional windowing". It is spelled out in the copyright owner's right to decide who can copy the work.

    If the copyright owner says that the work is NOT to be distributed in Norway, then it cannot be legally sold in Norway. This control of a copyrighted work by the copyright owner is one of the few things common to all copyright laws.

    Copies purchased in other countries and brought back to Norway may be legal, but bulk import for resale or general distribution is likely to be in violation of the laws if the copyright notices says "Not for sale in or import to a region that includes Norway" (Region 1 DVDs have a variation of this on almost every commercial DVD sold)

     

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  14.  
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    techflaws (profile), Jun 27th, 2012 @ 1:11am

    Re: Re:

    Next time I'm gonna quote the whole thing:

    In others, however, subtitling enthusiasts will have manually translated English language originals into local tongue, often providing a service that simply isnít available officially.

    This (and what I've read elsewhere but can't find ATM) suggests that besides fansubs they had "official" subs on their page as well.

     

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  15.  
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    techflaws (profile), Jun 27th, 2012 @ 1:13am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Correct. You know, globalization only count when it's working in the industry's favor, not when it's benefitting the customer.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 27th, 2012 @ 1:18am

    'keeping control'

    this is the whole aim of all the entertainment industries. it has and never will be about the money or the business or what is best for customers. they do, however, expect everyone to continue to support them 110% of the time, even when continuously treating those same customers like shit!

     

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  17.  
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    Androgynous Cowherd, Jun 27th, 2012 @ 1:33am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Wrong. It doesn't matter what the copyright notices say; first sale is first sale.

     

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  18.  
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    Richard (profile), Jun 27th, 2012 @ 1:58am

    Re: Re: Re:

    if the copyright notices says "Not for sale in or import to a region that includes Norway" (Region 1 DVDs have a variation of this on almost every commercial DVD sold)

    They may say that - but copyright holders are always making stuff up. It isn't anywhere in the law.

     

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  19.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jun 27th, 2012 @ 2:11am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "If the copyright owner says that the work is NOT to be distributed in Norway, then it cannot be legally sold in Norway"

    Perhaps, depending on Norway's laws. It will almost certainly, however, be legal to import the DVD from elsewhere, especially from somewhere else in the region 2 area. Even the industry's moronic attempts to split the world up into bite size chunks hasn't segregated Europe.

    "bulk import for resale or general distribution"

    This is where we get into the ideas of broken business models and the ideas of the spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law. Whatever the law says, if there's enough unserviced local demand for a product so that people are bulk importing it, then their business is broken. If they cannot get paid sufficient amounts by people buying a DVD from the UK or Canada instead of Norway, then their business is broken. They need people who know what they're doing to run the company, not copyright to "protect" them from people who are still paying them good money for a legally obtained product.

    "(Region 1 DVDs have a variation of this on almost every commercial DVD sold)"

    Yes, that pile of region 1 DVDs I have piled up in my apartment in Spain do say that. What an effective message...

     

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  20.  
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    Niall (profile), Jun 27th, 2012 @ 2:15am

    Re: Re: Re:

    General sale or resale is one thing, but in a case where someone has bought their own copy and wants a translation, first sale should apply. And if it IS a legal copy, then that right to watch bought with it should include the right to understand it!

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 27th, 2012 @ 3:29am

    Norwegian subtitle-files appearing on some bittorrent in 10...9...8...

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    RD, Jun 27th, 2012 @ 3:32am

    Dear Hollywood

    Dear Hollywood,

    We, your customers, the consumer, DO NOT GIVE A SHIT about however you have negotiated your licensing schemes for your entertainment products. We just want to buy and enjoy your product in our country, in our language, and at the same time anyone else can do the same. The burden for any restrictions from said licensing schemes should be on YOUR shoulders, not ours. Stop punishing, withholding, and suing US for your short sightedness and greed. Provide your product to us in a reasonable manner, or STFU when the entire rest of the universe who DO get it steps in to fill the needs left vacant by your lack of vision.

    Sincerely,

    -The People Who Pay Your Salary and Buy Your Products

     

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  23.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jun 27th, 2012 @ 4:15am

    The amusing part is that no copyright was infringed, no money was made. But he got fined. Amusing and sad at the same time.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 27th, 2012 @ 4:20am

    We have a similar situation regarding subtitles in Estonia. There is a severe shortage of both subtitles and foreign TV shows. Many foreign shows and movies are simply unavailable here. The one big provider of free Estonian subtitles has been bullied many times by the local copyright racket, but has managed to survive by changing server providers. Thankfully nobody has been prosecuted yet.

     

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  25.  
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    The eejit (profile), Jun 27th, 2012 @ 4:29am

    *moves mouth*

    *subtitles appear*

    STOP RIGHT THERE, CRIMINAL SCUM!

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    NullOp, Jun 27th, 2012 @ 4:43am

    Script

    Sounds like this guy was, in essence, making the script available for free. It's illegal, just like I can't transcribe a book and then make it available on the net for free.

    Jail time for this....ridiculous!

     

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  27.  
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    Non Smoker, Jun 27th, 2012 @ 4:48am

    Civil Disobedience

    Civil Disobedience through BOYCOTTING all the Media Giants so they are making zilcho [buying only second hand used videos and music from yard sales] seems appropriate and will result these days in only four lumps to the skull. Pretty painless when considering that these giants parade around with that smirk on their faces and won't look you in the eye, smoking their habanas, still be driven around town in their mint Duesies --just a bit too smug if you ask me. Giants 12042_Archivists/Sharers [Pirates] 22

     

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  28.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jun 27th, 2012 @ 4:59am

    Re: Script

    Bad example. A direct transcription of a book is essentially making an exact duplicate of the entire content of the book for consumption by itself. It's something that can be done with relatively little work, especially if OCR or similar software is used.

    Subtitles for a film are a transcription of only a part of the entire package, and is intended for viewing alongside a copy of the full film. Nobody sits down reading the subtitles alone, and a lot of original work has to go into creating them and making them function correctly (timings, translations, etc).

    While there may have been some law broken, at worst he was making the pirated copies of a movie more useful (i.e. possibly contributing to lost revenue, but not causing it directly). At best, he was making legal copies more useful, thus generating more income for the industry that's attacking him.

    "Jail time for this....ridiculous!"

    Here, we agree.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 27th, 2012 @ 5:09am

    In other words the copyright dependent industries lock themselves up in a room with the student and purposely set off a bunch of explosives just to hurt the student, knowing full well it'll also hurt them just as much.

     

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  30.  
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    ChrisB (profile), Jun 27th, 2012 @ 6:17am

    Netflix

    Netflix is being sued by a deaf person because they don't offer enough subtitled films. Who's fault is that? The world could crowd-source this issue and every film in existence could be subtitled in a week. But not with the film industry's bullsh!t hard-line stance.

     

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  31.  
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    Travis, Jun 27th, 2012 @ 6:25am

    This may have already been said...

    I'm a deaf person and I LOVE the subtitle sites. Sometimes movies themselves do a crappy ass job of subtitling their shows and the free subtitles from other sites are BETTER.

    Hell, Closed Captioning on TV is often pure GARBAGE as some of them aren't even timed properly to the show. Fat chance I can adjust the timings like I can with subtitle files.

    Indeed, another opportunity to meet the needs of a viable market.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    EF, Jun 27th, 2012 @ 6:52am

    For readers in Norway

    Here's the subtitle to Glyn's poignant closing paragraph translated to Norwegian -- hope I don't get fined or sent to jail for doing this.

    "Med andre ord heller enn tilpasser deres forretningsmodeller til forandrende tidene gjennom samtidige utlÝsninger omkring verdenen, foretrekker copyrightene industriene til wield det slÝve instrumentet av tvangen, men counterproductive som kan vśre for alle -- samt seg."

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 27th, 2012 @ 7:15am

    Things like this drive me crazy.

    I can't make copies of a board game that is out of print and damn near impossible or just straight up impossible to find anymore because of copyright.

    Some guy can't subtitle a show in a language they don't provide the show in.

    Are they going to be complaining about lost sales here? What about the lost sales of not selling to a whole market of people? Lost sales of not printing your stuff anymore even though when your product does somehow make it to ebay as a used sale it's going over $600??

    No I don't care what legal, or whatever reasoning you have. Cause it's stupid. It offends common sense.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 27th, 2012 @ 8:06am

    Re:

    "which means, he also offered subs ripped from DVDs/BDs rather than Fansubs translated by enthusiasts."

    Actually, he was doing the translating himself, creating subtitles from the English-language audio.

    Or do we have to translate English for you, boy?

     

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  35.  
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    techflaws (profile), Jun 27th, 2012 @ 8:12am

    Re: Re:

    Whatever you feel like, dude.

     

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  36.  
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    techflaws (profile), Jun 27th, 2012 @ 8:14am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Not in Germany and apparently also no longer in the US.

     

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  37.  
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    Yartrebo (profile), Jun 27th, 2012 @ 9:12am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I'm pretty sure US anti-trust law and probably some US free trade agreements disallow this kind of discriminatory pricing and practices. It's just that it's never enforced or selectively interpreted to allow this activity, probably because there isn't a lobby with strong political connections pushing for enforcement.

    PS: I know it's in Norway, but the works themselves are produced and generally first sold in the USA, and the DVD being used for the subtitling probably was purchased from a US vendor.

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    MattP, Jun 27th, 2012 @ 11:47am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Maybe I'm new to this whole reading comprehension thing but "isn't available officially" would mean to me that there are no official subs at all for the local tongue.

     

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  39.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 27th, 2012 @ 1:05pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    And giving your reading comprehension you're dead certain this refers to ALL subs on the site? So there wasn't any "Lost" subs available before the offical release that later got replaced by official subs ripped from DVDs?

     

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  40.  
    identicon
    Androgynous Cowherd, Jun 27th, 2012 @ 1:39pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    First sale is a principle, one derived from fundamental property rights. It exists regardless. If a particular nation's laws do not recognize it, and that nation is not avowedly Communist, then that nation's laws are in error. It's that simple.

     

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  41.  
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    techflaws (profile), Jun 29th, 2012 @ 12:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Good luck with being on the right side of the argument while it simply happens the other way round. Check out Omega and their watches.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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