"An example how captions may look, in Swedish." Via Wiki Commons
Crowdsourced and fan-made subtitles have become increasingly popular in recent years, and for good reason. While official subtitles can take ages to filter into foreign countries, the Internet and good samaritans can get subtitles out to the masses within days of a show or movie release.
It's a boon for consumers, but copyright owners apparently aren't happy: a Swedish subtitle fansite, Undertexter.se, is now offline following a police raid on its owners that was conducted at the request of Sweden's copyright industry.
According to a local report, servers and computers belonging to the owners of Undertexter (which means "subtitle" in Swedish) have been seized by police. In a statement on Facebook, the Undertexter folks note that their service is powered completely by fan-made translations provided for free. And, remember, we're talking about people sharing their own text translations for movies and shows they watched, not sharing the videos themselves.
Seems like a stretch, no? Undertexter thinks so, writing in thes statement (roughly translated via Google), "No Hollywood, here you pulled the wrong card. We will never give up, we live in a free country and Swedish people have every right to publish your own interpretation of a movie / series."
The crackdown just shows how powerful the copyright industry is in Sweden. As Rick Falkvinge writes, "In Sweden, the copyright industry can legally order police raids. They are called intrångsundersökning and are technically executed by the Enforcement Authority who enlist Police in turn."
Naturally, the Swedish Pirate Party has come to Undertexter's defense. Again, Google Translate to the rescue:
Subtitling of film and television is very different from pure translation, says [Pirate Party leader Anna] Troberg. The technical conditions make it more a question of a personal and drastically shortened interpretation of the spoken word, but rather a direct translation. Therefore, it is also unreasonable to equate subtitles with such a literary translation of a novel.
The argument on the industry side is two-fold. First, unofficial subtitles can help fuel piracy because they make English-language films watchable for foreign viewers that otherwise wouldn't bother. Also, releasing subtitles early hampers regional release schedules even if a viewer watches via legal means.
It's not the first time subtitle hosts have come under fire. For example, in 2012, a Norwegian student was fined after a judge ruled there was insufficient case law to support prosecutors' call for jail time. And way back in 2007, Polish and German police conducted a raid on a Polish subtitle archive. (The legality of subtitles is apparently important enough for there to be an eHow page for it.) It's not clear if they've been charged with a crime yet, but we'll have to just wait and see.