Hollywood Goes After Korean Fans Subtitling Soap Operas, Pressing Criminal Charges

from the copyright-failure dept

We’ve written a few times in the past about the movie and TV industries irrationally freaking out over fans in other countries providing subtitles for works that aren’t being released locally in that language. These are always labor-of-love efforts by fans who want to share the work more widely by providing the subtitles that the studios themselves refuse to offer. And yet, because of standard copyright maximalism, these efforts almost always end up leading to legal action.

The latest such example involves Fox, Warner Bros and four other Hollywood studios pressing criminal charges against 15 internet users in South Korea for daring to do the most horrible thing in the world: making their soap operas watchable in Korea by adding subtitles. And, of course, thanks to US pressure creating a ridiculous “free trade” agreement with Korea that includes ridiculously draconian copyright requirements, the punishment here can be extreme:

People who make subtitles without permission from the original authors or producers can be given a five-year jail term or fined up to 50 million won [about $50,000 US]

The police involved in this case, go on and on about the “harm” these fan subtitles are creating. They claim, without any evidence or numbers, that there was a massive decline in some cable broadcast revenue based on this and, also, that those poor professional Korean translators are being put out of work.

The [anonymous police] officer went on to say that a cable broadcast, which has aired U.S. dramas, held an emergency meeting recently after experiencing income loss following dwindling viewer ratings because of the massive spread of subtitled dramas on the Internet.

?Professional translators were also hit hard by the subtitle makers. I understand that the U.S. television drama producers took legal action against them to issue a warning to end such an illegal practice rather than making money through an out-of-court settlement fee,? he said.

This is positively insane. This is not what copyright is supposed to be about, and the fact that it’s being considered a criminal action to add subtitles to US soap operas is simply ridiculous. While the potential fine is a lot lower than statutory rates in the US, just the fact that this is considered a “criminal” matter at all, rather than a failure by these Hollywood studios to adequately serve their market, really says an awful lot (and none of it good) about how distorted the debate over copyright has become.

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Companies: 20th century fox, warner bros.

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Comments on “Hollywood Goes After Korean Fans Subtitling Soap Operas, Pressing Criminal Charges”

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51 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Criminally bad taste perhaps?

“Professional translators were also hit hard by the subtitle makers.

Assume, just for the sake of argument, this was true. With a sane response to fansubs like this, that ‘hit’ would be because those airing the shows realized that there’s people out there working, for free, to provide subtitles for the shows(suggesting that the current offerings are not in fact sufficient for the market in that area), which indicated that they could cut their translation costs drastically by getting in touch with those people.

They likely wouldn’t even need to pay them, just offer them access to the show before anyone else, both as ‘payment’, and so they can translate the things, anyone going through the hassle of translating a show to provide subtitles for it is obviously a huge fan of it, and would consider early access a major perk.

However, given the lack of any evidence of ‘harm’, and the fact that they’re not even tossing out any numbers as far as damages(and really, that’s just plain lazy. Even hollywood goes to the trouble to throw out numbers, even if they are ridiculously laughable and debunked almost as fast as they get mentioned), I’m guessing it’s just the usual scapegoating, where no one wants what they’re selling, and rather than admit this, they’re blaming their ‘financial troubles’ on the first handy target, in this case those twisted and evil fansubbers.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Criminally bad taste perhaps?

I used to translate subtitles to Portuguese. I did it even for shows I didn’t particularly like. My main goal was to make them available in my own language since the great majority of those shows (anime btw) never got any translation at all.

Also, while I don’t consider my own translations to be that good when the entertainment industry decided to bring some of those series that Brazilian fansubs had done before the translation work was terrible. The bright part is that here the industry saw the flaws and decided to work with some fansubs for better translation and the police wasn’t involved. Some actually shamelessly used the translations and gave no credit but shit happens, nobody do this for profit anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Criminally bad taste perhaps?

Hey, the fan translations can’t possibly be worse then some of the video game translation issues.

Who can forget All Your Base Are Now Belong To Us? Phantasy Star 3’s Portuguese translation was even worse than that. They forgot the ~ over some letters. That turned some items like ‘Hunting Knifes’ into Feces Knifes.

David says:

Re: Criminally bad taste perhaps?

“Professional translators were also hit hard by the subtitle makers.”

Actually, this statement is false on it’s face – since it’s obvious that professional translators were NEVER hired to do this. Hence the frustration of fans leading them to do it themselves.

If the professional translators were paid, and the content released with subtitles, then the fan-made version likely would never exist.

This is a classic case of the industry refusing to service the market, and the market trying to figure out how to get the services it desires.

Anonymous Coward says:

Pretty soon…someone will discover how to translate and endcode and store to a .txt file. then, another app will come along and read and decode the .txt file

another app will be developed just to watch AVI/WAV files in english.

and a 3rd app will keep the two apps sync’d, but separate, but showing both the video and subtitle in two separate (but coincidentally sync’d) windows.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Pretty soon…someone will discover how to translate and endcode and store to a .txt file. then, another app will come along and read and decode the .txt file…

And sadly, the MAFIAA owned politicians will come along and say that none of this is innovation and that they should instead spend their time and money doing something new and creative instead.

I kinda wish there was a better evolutionary environmental pressures for politicians and gatekeepers. So that we could weed them out of the food chain and move on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Anime

As far as I know, fansubs were a large part of the reason for the spread of anime in the international market. That is, fan-made subtitles opened up a new lucrative market for the original producers.

It wouldn’t surprise me if fan subtitling of soap operas could do the same for them. That is, as long as it isn’t killed in the cradle.

scotts13 (profile) says:

Yeah, competition

There was a certain Anime series I liked some years ago. I purchased probably-not-so-legal DVDs with fansubs. A couple of years later, when they became available, I also purchased the officially licensed copies – because I felt it was the right thing to do.

The fun thing is, the Official work was LUDICROUSLY bad – missing dialogue, incorrect translations, awkward westernizations of proper names, completely jarring, tacked-on title and end credits – even the font and positioning of the text was amateurish!

If this is what the Korean public is expected to be put up with, it’s just sad.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Yeah, competition

The fun thing is, the Official work was LUDICROUSLY bad – missing dialogue, incorrect translations, awkward westernizations of proper names, completely jarring, tacked-on title and end credits – even the font and positioning of the text was amateurish!

Unfortunate, but completely expected sadly. Fans go through all the trouble of translations because they love the source(show, movie, whatever), and of course they’re going to give their best, and do the best work that they can.

A company on the other hand, they’re likely just doing it for the money, so naturally they’re going to be as cheap and quick about it as they can, with the expected results from this.

PaulT (profile) says:

“a cable broadcast, which has aired U.S. dramas, held an emergency meeting recently after experiencing income loss following dwindling viewer ratings because of the massive spread of subtitled dramas on the Internet.”

In other words: people have been able to route around an unnecessary restriction that blocks them from enjoying a show in the way they wish. Rather than recognise this and, say, employ more translators to enable a quicker turnaround or come with a business model that doesn’t depend on artificial restrictions, we’ll make criminals out of our own fans.

Same as ever, I suppose.

“Professional translators were also hit hard by the subtitle makers.”

The question is why? Were there simply not enough translators available to translate the show quickly enough? Were the resulting translations of such poor quality that people had to search for alternatives (and as someone who spent the 90s watching horrific “professional” translations of Hong Kong movies, this is very possible)? Or, was the cable station’s programming predicated on making people wait months after the show’s US broadcast, giving people plenty of time to make their own translations?

Whatever the reason, my sympathy levels aren’t particularly high, especially since a good translator has many other avenues of employment even if TV work dries up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Generally, the shows aren’t shown at all in Korea. The US studios aren’t willing to pay to subtitle their shows into Korean. Instead, they wait for a local Korean company to give them a huge amount of money for the licensing rights. Then the Korean company will write the subtitles and distribute the show locally.

Unfortunately, the studios charge so much for the privilege of subtitling and distributing their shows, it’s almost never cost-effective for Korean companies to license the shows. The result is that most shows are never legally available in Korea at all.

The rights holders are pissed because:

a) In order to use a fansub, you also need the content that’s being subtitled. As discussed above, there’s no legal way to get the content in Korea, so the only way to get the content is to get it illegally. This means that everyone who uses fansubs is a pirate, and therefore evil.

b) If a US show somehow got really popular in Korea before any Koreans were allowed to watch it, it might get cost-effective for the Korean studios to distribute the show. This means that fansubs are competing with the hypothetical revenue stream the studios might someday get from selling rights to a show that magically became popular, therefore fansubbers are evil.

c) Any unauthorized use of the studios’ IP is, by definition, evil. Maybe you could justify this with a slippery slope argument, but I doubt it. The MPAA just gets really emotional about this sort of thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Simple solution...

Why do you say that? The technology is there it just has to be put together. It’s just like the VCR, DVR, etc. By creating such an app, the developer isn’t infringing on any copyrights any more than the manufacturers of those devices are. Furthermore, since the legal precedent has been set that when individual users use those devices for personal use with regards to copyrighted material that they have legal access to, those activities are perfectly legal, individuals using such an app to add subtitles to any video would also be perfectly legal. Problem solved. Technology routes around draconian laws again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Simple solution...

Are you suggesting that it would be against the law for a person to use something that translates a work for them? For instance, is it against the law for a blind person to use software that reads text to them converting the written words to audible sound especially if the derivative work is only temporary and isn’t retained. Surely this would be considered fair use.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Simple solution...

Indeed I am, PaulT. The real stupid of that specious argument is the fact that the big powerful rights owners know for a fact that only those who get official content (however they get it) are inconvenienced by DRM because pirates are getting copies which has either had it stripped away. To make matters worse, counterfeit DVDs are very often sold with their own copy of the original distributors’ DRM on the disc!

Anonymous Coward says:

how can anyone other than the totally crazy entertainment industries actually think that writing subtitles for movies or TV shows is worth a 5year jail term? this has really gone too far! when the push back comes, and i wouldn’t be surprised if it’s getting closer to happening, i bet there will be some serious actions taken!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s the ‘When all you have is a hammer…’ issue, they are completely incapable of competing with piracy, despite the fact they could all be destroy is with minimal effort on their part. Instead, all they know, and all they ever try, is increasingly harsh punishments, which, not-so-coincidentally, also increase their control, that being their real goal.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Reducing the harm Hollywood does to consumers

The police involved in this case go on and on about the “harm” these fan subtitles are creating.
Okay, so reduce this ‘harm’ by no longer providing subtitles that are accurately translated, and thus reduce the very real harm that Hollywood does to active consumers by taking away such a large paying audience, thus reducing the amount of money they have to fritter away on chasing people they don’t intend to sue for alleged copyright and trademark infringements. Simples!

Anonymous Coward says:

Prison

As a silver lining for those who get a full sentence, at least nobody will mess with ’em. After all, when other prisoners ask “What are you in for?” and receive the response “I got five years for subtitling a TV show,” well… I’m sure word will spread: “Don’t mess with that guy, he’s the craziest mother I’ve ever met.”

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