Netflix To Try Crowdsourcing Subtitles; Will It Get Sued For Infringement?

from the rock-and-a-copyright-law dept

Before getting into the details of this new story, let me bring up a pair of recent Techdirt stories as background. First, there's the story of Netflix being told that not having closed captioning on its streaming movies means it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. As we noted at the time, this raised interesting copyright questions, considering that Netflix may not be legally allowed to put captions on videos. A few days before that, we had written about a student who ran a site that provided crowdsourced downloadable subtitle files for TV and movies, and had been found guilty of copyright infringement.

Knowing both those things, isn't it interesting that Netflix is now experimenting with crowdsourcing captioning/subtitles for films and TV shows? Perhaps it figures that having lost that first legal fight, it should lean in the other direction and see if it gets sued there as well. Either way, it seems like it opens up some pretty serious copyright questions. While some of us think that providing captions/subtitles should be pretty clear fair use, others (obviously) disagree. And, when it's an operation like Netflix -- which is obviously a commercial entity -- you have to wonder if it's going to get sued...

Filed Under: copyright, crowdsourcing, subtitles
Companies: netflix


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  1. icon
    Chosen Reject (profile), 3 Aug 2012 @ 10:14am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Paul is right. He never said that the subtitles are words that don't have anything to do with the movie. What you fail to see is how different subtitles are from a script, much less how small a part they are of the entire work (which is the movie, not just the script). Here's an example from the Dark Knight. You can find the script here and an example subtitle can be found here. I'll provide the first 10 or so lines from each and you see what would be easier to make a movie out of.

    Subtitles:
    1
    00:01:45,105 --> 00:01:47,939
    Three of a kind, let's do this.
    That's it? Three guys?

    2
    00:01:48,106 --> 00:01:51,438
    Two guys on the roof. Every
    guy gets a share. Five shares is plenty.

    3
    00:01:51,610 --> 00:01:54,064
    Six shares. Don't
    forget the guy who planned the job.

    4
    00:01:54,237 --> 00:01:56,524
    He thinks he can sit it out
    and still take a slice.

    5
    00:01:56,698 --> 00:01:59,816
    - I know why they call him the Joker.
    Why do they call him the Joker?
    Now the script:
    BURNING: Massive flames. A dark shape emerges- The BAT SYMBOL. Growing. Filling the screen with blackness.

    CUT TO:

    DAYLIGHT. Moving over the towers of downtown Gotham... Closing in on an office building... On a large window... Which SHATTERS to reveal-

    INT. OFFIC, HIGH RISE -- DAY

    A man in a CLOWN MASK holding a SMOKING SILENCED PISTOL ejects a shell casing. This is DOPEY. He turns to a second man, HAPPY, also in clown mask, who steps forward with a CABLE LAUNCHER, aims at a lower roof across the street and FIRES a cable across. Dopey secures the line to an I-beam line- CLAMP on- sends a KIT BAG out then steps OUT the window...

    EXT. HIGH RISE -- DAY

    ...into space. The men SLIDE across the DIZZYING DROP... landing on the lower roof across the street.
    You'll notice that the subtites offer absolutely no clues as to who is speaking or what is going on (with the exception of some timing info), whereas the script hasn't even gotten to a single spoken line yet.

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