OpenSubtitles is one of the largest and most advanced subtitle repositories on the Internet, with millions of subtitles being downloaded every week.
The site was founded over a decade ago by a Slovakian programmer who came up with the idea while drinking a few beers at a local pub. In the early days, copyright concerns weren’t much of an issue, but that position has changed.
In recent years, OpenSubtitles and similar sites have been blocked by ISPs in several countries following court orders. While the subtitles themselves offer little entertainment value, rightsholders see them as an integral part of the piracy ecosystem.
This belief is shared by the Danish anti-piracy outfit RettighedsAlliancen. Acting on behalf of several movie companies, the group obtained a blocking injunction against Internet provider TDC. As part of a voluntary agreement, several other ISPs followed suit.
While RettighedsAlliancen was happy with the blockade, it wasn’t completely satisfied. There were still Danes on smaller ISPs who could access the site and Danish VPN servers could access it too. This prompted the group to demand action from the target site itself.
This came to light when several OpenSubtitles users noticed that they could no longer access the site. Instead, they were redirected to a translated copy of the court order, hosted on the anti-piracy group’s website.
After some initial speculation surrounding the possible involvement of Europol and Cloudflare, OpenSubtitles admin “oss” offered some much-needed clarification.
“We received ‘nice’ letter from Danish Rettighedsalliancen to block our site from Danish users. So on our end we detect if User IP is from DK, and if yes, then they are redirected there,” oss writes.
Not all users understand the decision to block users voluntarily and mention that it’s a “slippery slope.” While the admin doesn’t dispute this, he prefers to resolve the matter to avoid potential problems. Especially since most Danish visitors are blocked by their ISPs already.
TorrentFreak reached out to the anti-piracy group which confirmed that it sent OpenSubtitles an email late November. The group pointed out that some of the site’s activities are deemed illegal in Denmark and urged the operator to “stop further infringements.”
As far as we know, this is the first time that a site has voluntarily blocked access to visitors from a country to comply with a court order against a third-party, which doesn’t specifically apply to the site itself.
It’s also worth noting that the blocking efforts are broader than the Danish court order, which is limited to OpenSubtitles’ role as a supplier to the Popcorn Time app. According to the order, only the api.opensubtitles.org and dl.opensubtitles.org domains have to be blocked. However, the site also redirects visitors to the main domain.
While the anti-piracy group is pleased with OpenSubtitles’ cooperation, making the site completely inaccessible in Denmark will be impossible. People can still bypass the blockade, even the site’s own one, by relying on foreign VPN servers.