Unauthorized Subtitles For Movies & TV Shows Are Illegal, Court Rules

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A group of fansubbers who turned the tables on BREIN by taking the anti-piracy group to court have lost their legal battle. The Free Subtitles Foundation sought a legal ruling determining that fansubbers act within the law, but this week the Amsterdam District Court sided with BREIN on all counts.

For millions of people around the world, subtitles are absolutely essential for enjoying the most popular movies and TV shows. Many consumers don’t have English as their mother tongue and the deaf have few other options.

As a result, subtitles are extremely popular among Internet users. These files, which are tiny when compared to the videos they accompany, are downloaded in their millions every month. Some are ripped from official media, but others are the product of fans who painstakingly create their own subtitles from scratch.

For many years these ‘fansubbers’ have flown under the radar, but increasingly they’ve come under pressure from anti-piracy groups who accuse them of infringing copyright and fueling piracy. BREIN has been quite active on this front, forcing several subtitling groups into retreat, but last year faced a unique response from a tenacious group of fansubbers.

After raising their own funds, last year the “Free Subtitles Foundation” (Stichting Laat Ondertitels Vrij – SLOV) took the decision to make a stand for subtitling groups in the Netherlands, suing BREIN with the hope of obtaining a favorable legal ruling.

The group’s lawyer, Camiel Beijer, previously told TF that the case revolved around two issues.

“The main question is whether the creation and publishing of film subtitles is an act only reserved to the maker of the film work in question,” Beijer said

“The second issue concerns a review of the conduct of BREIN against people who create and reproduce subtitles. The Free Subtitles Foundation anticipates that a court verdict will shed more light on these two themes.”

This week the Amsterdam District Court handed down its decision (pdf) and it was bad news for the fansubbers. The Court rejected all of their claims and sided with BREIN on each count.

The Court found that subtitles can only be created and distributed after permission has been obtained from copyright holders. Doing so outside these parameters amounts to copyright infringement.

“There are several so-called release teams actively making films and TV series available from illegal sources and adding illegal subtitles for the Dutch market. This judgment makes it clear once again that this is illegal,” BREIN director Tim Kuik said in a statement.

BREIN maintains that whatever their intentions, the work carried out by fansubbers is not only damaging to copyright holders, but also amounts to unfair competition for emerging business models involving movies and TV shows. With that in mind, BREIN will continue its crackdown.

“With this decision in hand it will be easier for BREIN to maintain its work against illegal subtitlers and against sites and services that collect illegal subtitles and add movies and TV shows from an illegal source,” Kuik concludes.

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