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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Filed Under: copyright, criminal copyright, korea, soap operas, south korea, subtitles
Companies: 20th century fox, warner bros

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jul 2014 @ 10:29am


    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.

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