A recent police raid of Swedish subtitling website Undertexter highlights the need for the reform of copyright laws, and how these antiquated rules should be replaced with new regulations that better favour Internet users, innovators, and content creators. Undertexter was a fansite that provided original dialogue translations from television shows and movies, translations which helped deaf and foreign language-speaking individuals have easy access to these cultural works.
According to Swedish Internet freedom activist Rick Falkvinge, it was websites like Undertexter that helped give deaf and foreign-language speakers the chance to watch movies and television programs, providing translations that would otherwise take months to become available. However, since the raid on Undertexter, that opportunity is now gone. Not only are these people being punished for their disabilities and language barriers, but so are the individuals who, for free of charge, took the time to provide their own translations of these films and television shows to help people who would otherwise not be able to access them.
In Sweden, copyright holders have the right to order police raids if they think their intellectual property is being infringed upon. However, when examining the case of Undertexter, Hollywood seems to have the opinion that fans of the very television shows and movies their industry creates are criminals for wanting to give individuals, who would otherwise not be able to regularly watch this kind of entertainment, the opportunity to enjoy these same television shows and films. Hollywood does not seem to take into account that Undertexter is a fansite, and that its content creators are using their own interpretations to translate these films and television shows, and are not directly copying the translations that would otherwise only be provided on Blu-ray or DVD copies.
What these particular individuals are really doing is called fansubbing, which, according to Rick Falkvinge, is “a thriving culture which usually provides better-than-professional subtitles for new episodes with less than 24 hours of turnaround”. For many, this one day turnaround would be much more optimal than waiting six months or more for the providers associated with the original television show or film to release translated versions.
Undertexter released a statement on their Facebook page soon after the raid, signaling that they intend to fight on against Hollywood’s criminalization of their work:
"We will never give up, we live in a free country and Swedish people have every right to publish their own interpretation of a movie/series".
This raid demonstrates just how severe and outdated copyright laws around the world have become. As Rick Falkvinge states, these copyright regulations are not “protecting the creator of artwork”, but instead are “protecting the big distribution monopolies, no matter who actually created the art”. Falkvinge goes on to write that the fact that in parts of the world copyright holders can actually order police raids also demonstrates “a clear escalation of violence”, which is very troubling.
It is time for copyright laws to stop inhibiting creativity, and instead make room for encouraging innovation. We need copyright laws that work for the 21st century. Citizens across the globe are already working for change, and discussing how best we can shape a digital future that works for all of us. You too can join the discussion on how to shape our digital future - Make your voice heard at http://openmedia.org/digitalfuture.