Earlier this week a movie and TV show subtitling site was raided by police following an investigation carried out by a Hollywood-backed anti-piracy group. With the site’s equipment seized but data safe, the youth division of the Swedish Pirate Party is now overseeing Undertexter’s crowd-funded return to glory. Meanwhile, as the prosecutor stands behind his decision to take down the site, a law professor thinks that things may not be so cut and dried.
Undertexter.se was a user-generated archive of subtitle files aimed at non-native speakers and the deaf, but on Tuesday it was shut down by the police following complaints from Hollywood-backed anti-piracy group Rättighetsalliansen (Rights Alliance).
Despite the setback, site founder Eugen Archy insisted that Undertexter would be back.
“We will never give up, we live in a free country and Swedish people have every right to publish their own interpretations of a movie or TV show,” he said in a statement.
While all major equipment remains in police hands, Undertexter do have a copy of their most valuable asset – the site’s database. With that – and obviously a server or two – the site hopes to make a grand return, but they say that won’t be possible without assistance from the public.
“We at Undertexter.se have long hesitated about whether to ask for donations because it is not in our nature to associate subtitles with money. We run Undertexter.se voluntarily and have no intentions of getting rich from it,” says Eugen Archy.
“But now we have no other options, we have been told that we will not get our servers or computers back in the coming months. But we obviously have a plan!”
Perhaps unsurprisingly that involves people donating to a fund, but to avoid any question of the site’s operators profiting from the situation, the drive will be overseen by the youth division of the Swedish Pirate Party.
“The Pirate Party’s youth organization (Young Pirate) will have access to Undertexter.se’s bank account and will check that the correct amount has been received. Once that happens donations will be stopped. This is to avoid future speculation that we are here for the money. We just want to save Undertexter.se!” Eugen Archy explains.
Quite how the donation drive will be viewed by the police remains to be seen. Rights Alliance and prosecutor Fredrik Ingblad are absolutely adamant that Undertexter was an illegal site involved in mass copyright infringement. Whether they will try to interrupt the fund-raising will be an issue for the days to come.
However, not everyone believes the legal situation is so clear. Speaking with Metro, Sanna Wolk, an associate professor of civil law at Uppsala University, says important details need to be assessed.
“The core issue is whether the lyrics count as independent works or pure translations. If they follow the script, it’s a copyright violation to distribute them without permission, but if they’re self-published, it is not,” Wolk says.
“It is difficult to say where the exact line is. Subtitles need to be considered on their own merits to make an assessment.”
Countering claims that Undertexter carried some commercial subtitle files, founder Eugen Archy says that on rare occasions that may have happened (as with any user-generated content site) but complaints from rightsholders were never forthcoming.
“We have never received complaints from businesses who have pointed out that some of the subtitles were taken from their DVD – 95% of all translations were written by the users themselves,” he explains.
In any event, copyright expert Sanna Wolk is struggling to understand why the site was targeted.
“Undertexter.se represents a form of Youtube spirit that has evolved into something new. You can not stop it. I do not understand what benefit this kind of process of law making will have in the long run. It costs society a lot of money, generates lots of bad will and means suffering for individuals, Wolk says.
“Industry should instead work on finding new ways to sell. I do not understand why they’re focusing on this, it does not benefit anyone.”