Swedish Fan-Made Subtitle Site Is Shut Down By Copyright Police

In a move that should give Twilight slash-fic writers pause, the Swedish copyright enforcement agency, called Intrångsundersökning, raided and seized the servers of Undertexter.se, a fansub site dedicated to collecting fan-made English and Swedish subtitles. The raid happened in Stockholm yesterday morning.

Fansub sites supply specially coded text files that viewers can use to sync the audio with translated subtitles. They are obviously very popular with consumers of pirated content, but even Netflix used some fansubs to add subtitles to their movies in Finland. What’s more, the subtitles aren’t copies of the text available on, say, DVDs or Blu-rays, but are mostly renditions of the on screen action (that are often actually hilariously bad). However they are still unpaid labors of love produced by fans of certain shows and movies, more akin to a remix than wholesale piracy, and they are very valuable in underserved markets.

In short, Hollywood picked exactly the wrong folks to bother. And, incidentally, the data is still online.

Undertexter.se is no longer live. They have placed a message on their Facebook account and domain, translated here by Falkvinge:

This morning the police raided Undertexter.se and seized both servers and desktops. We who work on the site don’t consider a interpretation of dialog to be something illegal, especially not when sharing it for free. Henrik Pontén [the copyright industry’s primary henchman in Sweden], who is behind the raid, disagrees. Sorry Hollywood, this was the totally wrong card to play. We will never surrender. […] We must do everything in our power to stop these anti-pirates. […] More info soon. / UT Crew

The Swedish Pirate Party also issued a statement saying “Today’s monopoly scuttles and inhibits creativity in a way that is completely unreasonable. The raid against undertexter.se is yet another piece of evidence that the time has come to reform the copyright monopoly from the ground up.”

While there is a lot of highfalutin talk about freedom and means of control flying around about the shutdown, it’s clear that fansubs are the least of Hollywood’s concern. That they would see fit to have the Swedish government pull a set of text files of tangential importance to the film industry is like shutting down an artist who paints portraits of Wesley Crusher kissing Data – it’s obviously unpalatable and destroys far more good will than money it saves.

A similar case appeared in Poland in 2007 when a popular fansub site was shut down. Polish authorities recently closed the case. From DobreProgramy:

Elizabeth Łowicka, deputy head of the Prosecutor’s Office in Zabrze, today announced that the prosecution has decided to discontinue the case. The reason for this decision was justified by the ignorance of unlawfulness of the conduct exhibited by the translators.

In short, the translators didn’t think it was wrong – and, in the end, I hope more copyright enforcers agree it wasn’t.