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. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Aug 2012 @ 8:47am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "You are suggesting that what the characters say in the movie isn't a key part of the movie? Wow."

    It is indeed a key part of the movie, and the subtitles cover the length of the movie, not just some excerpt. On the other hand, there are very few movies where it could stand alone and be worth reading with no context. Not that anyone is trying to MAKE it stand alone.

    "Not directly, but it usurps the right holder's position to do this work and provide this with their product."

    Except the producers aren't doing this, which is the problem. If they want to include subtitles I'm sure Netflix would be happy to use them instead of making their own. And I'm sure it would be extremely illegal under the ADA to attempt to charge more for including subtitles, so I don't think you could argue that this would be a potential revenue stream.

    "I would say that you would be LUCKY to get 2 out of 4 factors here"

    But it's not just the number of factors, it's the strength of them. One factor can override the others if it's strong enough. I think that once the judge got to "The purpose and character of the use" and saw that the purpose was to help deaf people who were viewing a movie that had been paid for, and/or that the purpose was to COMPLY WITH THE LAW, that would be enough, and the other factors would be practically ignored. Especially when the other side couldn't point to any actual damages resulting from the so-called infringement.

    "Now, on the other side, if Netflix has subtitles but other sellers / lenders do not, have they gained a commercial benefit from this action? That might actually hurt the market, making it harder for others to sell or lend their copies, and perhaps causing a decrease in sales."

    Except Netflix could not claim copyright on the subtitles - since they soley consist of dialougue from the movie, the copyright on them would still be with whoever has the movie copyright. Meaning any other seller/lender could use Netflix's subtitles in the same way (not to mention that they could just do the work and make the subtitles themselves.)

    Anyway. Since "what the characters say in the movie" is "a key part of the movie", it should be legal to show the captions with the movie. You're just showing in a different way what's alredy happening on the screen. What's next, they're going to claim stereo speakers are infringing because the audio signal is split into 2 "copies" when someone listens?

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