Film translation site subject of police raid

12/07/2013 | Hayley

A Swedish website that provides free subtitles for films has gone offline following a police raid.

Undertexter – which translates in English to ‘Subtitles’ – offered movie fans subtitles in their mother tongue for films that had not been released with them. It was a universal project that allowed users to upload translations of dialogue to accompany films so they could be enjoyed by others. The owners of the site note on their Facebook page that they ran it as a not-for-profit venture and had not asked for donations, but to get it up and running again they would have to.

On Tuesday, the website reported that the police had raided it and seized its servers and computers, leaving the web page down. The owners insist that the service is not illegal and that they give away the interpretations for free. They add that 95 per cent of the translated subtitles are written directly by the users and that those who feel the text has been taken straight from the movie’s DVD or that it infringes copyright can report it directly to Undertexter. “Has it received any such report? NO,” the website says on its Facebook page.

A Swedish police spokesperson told the BBC that the raid was instigated after a complaint was received from copyright holders. The Rights Alliance, commenting on the case, told the news organisation that the case was one of several to be recorded in Europe. However, critics have claimed it is symptomatic of the attempts of American studios to protect their intellectual property against violation by any type of party.

Swedish Police’s national chief of intellectual property crime Paul Pinter said that under copyright law people were banned from producing transcripts of films or similar content with protected intellectual property, without first obtaining the owner’s permission.

Speaking to The Inquirer, leader of the Swedish Pirate Party Anna Troberg said it was tricky to suggest with certainty that the production of subtitles for foreign language films was covered by copyright law. “Subtitling of film and television is very different from pure translation,” she explained, adding: “Therefore it is also unreasonable to equate subtitles with such a literary translation of a novel.” She called for current copyright regulations to be reformed.

Meanwhile, Rick Falkvinge, founder of the First Pirate Party, has written extensively about the raid. He says: “What’s remarkable about this raid is that the copyright industry has decided to do a full-out raid against something that is entirely fan-made.” He adds that the subtitles are produced quickly, sometimes in as little as 24 hours, whereas the makers of the films might take as long as six months to supply them.

Editor of Torrentfreak Ernesto van der Sar also spoke out against the raid, telling the BBC the subtitles were created by “the most passionate fans the industry has”. He added that these people were not doing it to make a profit and that such sites provide a way for both deaf and foreign language audiences to enjoy the films.

Police will now hand the seized computers and servers to their forensics department to analyse the material contained on them before further interviews are conducted. Any defendants could face a fine or a prison sentence if found guilty. The Rights Alliance has said it intends to investigate other similar services as well.

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