Founder Of Fan-Subtitle Site 'Undertexter' Loses Copyright Infringement Appeal

from the sinnesjuk dept

Just a quick update on the current craziness going on in the Swedish court system. In the middle of 2017, we wrote about the Swedish authorities raiding the offices of Undertexter, a site that provides fan-created subtitles of movies. Many people were confused by this, but the film industry has long branded fan-made subtitles as contributors to piracy, allowing people in foreign countries to download films and append the subtitles to watch them, rather than buying the localized version. The industry also argues that these subtitles are themselves copyright infringement, as they essentially reproduce the film’s script in another language.

Founder Eugen Archy was convicted of copyright infringement. Ever the fighter, he appealed, but now we learn that Archy has lost his appeal as well.

On appeal, Archy agreed that he was the person behind Undertexter but disputed that the subtitle files uploaded to his site infringed on the plaintiffs’ copyrights, arguing they were creative works in their own right.

While to an extent that may have been the case, the Court found that the translations themselves depended on the rights connected to the original work, which were entirely held by the relevant copyright holders. While paraphrasing and parody might be allowed, pure translations are completely covered by the rights in the original and cannot be seen as new and independent works, the Court found.

The Svea Hovrätt also found that Archy acted intentionally, noting that in addition to administering the site and doing some translating work himself, it was “inconceivable” that he did not know that the subtitles made available related to copyrighted dialog found in movies.

Now, the good news is that losing this appeal only results in his original conviction and punishment of probation and a $26,000 fine. All told, that isn’t the craziest punishment we’ve seen for copyright infringement. Those caveats aside, let’s all remember that Undertexter gave away the fan-translations it hosted. The site didn’t sell them. They were offered for free. And for the crime of providing free translations in markets that are often underserved by Hollywood, he now has a copyright infringement conviction on his record and a five-figure bill to pay.

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Companies: undertexter

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Comments on “Founder Of Fan-Subtitle Site 'Undertexter' Loses Copyright Infringement Appeal”

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Rekrul says:

I know it would never happen, but I have this fantasy that a fan-sub site puts up wildly inaccurate subs for major Hollywood movies. People download the subs and then write bad reviews of the movies because the dialog is so bad, giving the movie a bad reputation. Hollywood tries to sue, but can’t do anything because the subs aren’t an actual translation of the movie’s dialog. The site tells Hollywood “We would have loved to put up accurate subs and let people enjoy the movie as it was intended, but since you’ve made that illegal, we now make up our own dialog for the films. If people think the movies suck because of that, that’s just how it is, so suck it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Hollywood could then reach into its bag and pull out some talking points from the 1990s. Back then, people were posting very low resolution short clips of films, and Hollywood responded, claiming not just the standard line of copyright infringement, but also insisting that while these clips were not a direct substitute for people buying the movie, they degraded the experience of watching a film so much that they were just as harmful to their business as releasing full-resolution movies would have been (or by extension, a bad film review).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

There’s also the fact that some rightsholders have gone on the record to state that giving something a bad review infringes on the copyright they hold, so they’re allowed to use the DMCA to demand removal of derivative content they dislike.

Unlike what tp and out_of_the_blue would like to believe the reviews would qualify for fair use. The problem is some judges are dumb enough to believe anything a copyright plaintiff says.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: What's Up, Tiger Lily?

That’s right Woody Allen’s first feature film What’s Up, Tiger Lily? he did exactly this, re-dubbing a Japanese spy thriller International Secret Police: Key of Keys into an entirely different story.

I approve. I think there’s a vast demand for transformational revisions of Hollywood media. Most of those movies are risk-adverse media-as-product crap anyway, and can use the touch of a rogue artist.

It’s even better if it’s illegal.

Anonymous Coward says:

This leaves unresolved the question of whether completely or substantially rewriting the script would have absolved a person of copyright infringement when releasing a “subtitle” of a film.

It would be interesting to see what would happen in the case of a very bad movie of a very popular franchise, a “pirate” who re-edits the film and replaces the dialog, and ends up with a product that fans greatly prefer to the official Hollywood version.

And it would not be hard to improve something like 1997’s Batman & Robin, with it’s cringingly stupid dialog and subtle but pervasive homosexualization that committed extreme offense to fans of that genre.

PaulT (profile) says:

“Many people were confused by this, but the film industry has long branded fan-made subtitles as contributors to piracy, allowing people in foreign countries to download films and append the subtitles to watch them, rather than buying the localized version.”

Which only makes sense if you ignore reality and split the world up into your preferred easy to manage pieces. When reality intrudes, you will find that people have many interested that go beyond whatever a studio is happening to be trying to sell them at that moment in time. In this case, there are reasons for which they will want to buy a version with subtitles in languages other than the one where they live.

Perhaps they are learning a new language not covered by the official local version, or they need teaching materials to help other do the same. Perhaps they are travelling, and want to access something they can understand since their native language isn’t supported locally. Perhaps they have moved country altogether but don’t wish to be completely isolated from their native tongue. The people in charge of these studios may be people who only bother to learn one language or live in one place all their lives, but their audience may not be.

These are all niche requirements, you may argue. Well, so is the site in question. This is all compounded by the fact that fan subs are often higher quality than the official version if a localised one is available anyway, but the basic driver for such sites is that the version a person wants to buy is not available in their location. Offering that would yet again be more sensible than shutting down the unapproved version before offing a legit option. Saying “you live in the wrong place to get what you wish to buy” is never going to be a winning argument when trying to get a customer to buy from you.

So, yet again – a fan doing something to benefit other fans in his area of interest, causing no real harm but providing some real benefits. Shut down because the industry would rather dictate to its fans what they should be buying, rather than offer what they really want.

Anonymous Coward says:

the crime is with the entertainment industries for expecting to get wins over someone who supplies what the industries dont or dont want to and with the courts, particular the USA courts, where these type of ridiculous cases originated and gave wins to the industries (all because of bribes of one sort or another to the heads of the legal system and law enforcement depts!), rather than recognising them for what they really are, something the public wants, often desperately needs, but the industries cant be assed to give because of the way they actually despise customers!!

Anonymous Coward says:

The first time I heard the term “fansub” was probably 1995. People with the right equipment (which were few and far between at the time) would add in the subs to Japanese anime (not a big genre at all back then), sometimes their own cultural difference commentaries (in text) before each episode started.

There was so little chance of getting any anime getting a full VHS release back then, not to mention subbed with the original audio, that fansubbing was literally the only way of getting a half-decent version of an anime to Western shores.

Same should apply here. If there is demand enough for someone to sub it, same “rules” from those old days probably apply: Buy it once there’s an official version to support the original creators.

Sometimes the fansub itself is also the catalyst to others demanding an English-subbed/dubbed version, less so nowadays with high-quality anime streaming services like Crunchyroll, but I’m sure it still happens.

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