Online, subtitles come in the form of small text files that can be quickly downloaded and played alongside a corresponding video file using media players such as VLC.
In many cases the words contained in these files have been created by the movie and TV studios and just like their scripts, are considered valuable intellectual property. In others, however, subtitling enthusiasts will have manually translated English language originals into local tongue, often providing a service that simply isn’t available officially.
A site offering such subtitle files has just got its student owner into legal trouble after growing in popularity and eventually serving up more than a million downloads.
In April this year the site, which TorrentFreak has identified as Norsub.com, put up a notice stating that although they always believed that they had operated legally, they had been ‘informed’ that sharing subtitles online constitutes copyright infringement.
As a result, Norsub said they were choosing “to distance themselves from this activity” by shutting themselves down, but it now transpires that their problems were running a bit deeper than merely being ‘informed’.
According to a report from the South Trøndelag County Court, a student from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim has just faced trial for operating Norsub.
It was claimed that the unnamed 25-year-old had run the site since 2009 and during that time had offered unauthorized subtitles enabling locals to watch thousands of foreign language movie and TV shows.
During the site’s three years online, Norsub is said to have offered subtitles to more than 6,000 productions. Of these the student is said to have personally provided 400. As can be seen from this archive, from aXXo to Z0N3 the site provided subtitles for just about every online release group.
While there have been previous infringement cases in Norway involving other media such as movies, this is the first time a court has heard a case involving subtitles. The judge reportedly had difficulty in comparing movie piracy with sharing subtitles, considering the former to be a much more serious offense.
Running against the student was the fact that he’d operated the site for several years and during that time the site had become very popular. In his favor, he’d shut the site immediately once he realized there was a problem with copyright.
Prosecutors asked the court to hand down a jail sentence, but the judge refused to go that far. Instead, the student was fined 15,000 kroner, roughly $2,500. He is currently investing his time in a completely legal movie information site called Moviie.com.
Although relatively rare, US movie and TV studios have taken legal action against subtitling sites before. The reason they appear to get so annoyed by the existence of these sites is that they allow people abroad to watch movies and TV shows that due to licensing issues haven’t even arrived on their shores yet.