The Court of Appeal in Sweden has held that the unlicensed creation of subtitles for films and TV shows is an infringement of copyright in those films and TV shows.
While production companies generally provide subtitles for their releases, there is often a long delay between the release of the content and the release of the content with subtitles. Eugen Archy is the founder of the website Undertexter.se, which has become widely recognised in Sweden as a leading provider of unofficial subtitles in Swedish.
The site's model is simple: watch a film, transcribe it in to subtitles, and provide those subtitles to the public for free. The "profit" element comes from advertising and donations. Because of this, it is hard to see where the harm to the production companies arises. Undertexter.se does not provide the films or TV shows, and the production companies do not charge extra for Swedish subtitled releases of their content.
Despite this, the District Court and the Court of Appeal have now held that releasing the subtitles to the public is an infringement of copyright, and have ordered injunction preventing Archy from producing more subtitles, and sentencing him to probation and a fine of over $26,000.
There are hundreds of other free unofficial subtitling websites available, and while many have been taken offline without court proceedings taking place, there has been significant litigation in the Netherlands on the issue.
Last year the Stichting Laat Ondertitles Vrij (Free Subtitles Foundation) sued BREIN (an anti-piracy organisation) after it asserted pressure on and subsequently caused to close-down several subtitling groups. BREIN successfully defended that action, with the court holding that subtitles can only be created with permission of the copyright holder.
It remains to be seen whether the publicity this issue is now attracting will cause the delay in the official release of subtitles to be reduced.
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