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

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techflaws (profile) says:

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.

techflaws (profile) says:

Re: 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 isn?t 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.

Androgynous Cowherd says:

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.

Androgynous Cowherd says:

Re: 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.

Fritzr (profile) says:

Re: 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)

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: 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…

Yartrebo (profile) says:

Re: 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.

PaulT (profile) says:

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 haven?t 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.

RD says:

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.


-The People Who Pay Your Salary and Buy Your Products

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

PaulT (profile) says:

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.

Non Smoker says:

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

Travis (profile) says:

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.

EF says:

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 utl?sninger omkring verdenen, foretrekker copyrightene industriene til wield det sl?ve instrumentet av tvangen, men counterproductive som kan v?re for alle — samt seg.”

Anonymous Coward says:

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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