A group of fan-made subtitle creators are taking the Hollywood-backed anti-piracy group BREIN to court. The fansubbers want a Dutch court to decide whether their activities are protected by freedom of expression and if BREIN is permitted to crack down on their work.
Fan-made subtitles are commonly created for two purposes – to let foreigners understand English-speaking entertainment or to provide the deaf with a way to comprehend audio.
Every day millions of people enjoy homemade subtitles but if it was up to some copyright holder groups, the websites offering these files would all cease to exist.
This has created a fair amount of tension between both sides and several subtitle websites have had to close shop as a result of this pressure. In the Netherlands, however, a group of subtitle fanatics has decided to go on the offensive.
A group of fansubbers united in the “Free Subtitles Foundation” (Stichting Laat Ondertitels Vrij – SLOV) and raised $15,000 over the past two years for a legal campaign against the local anti-piracy group BREIN, which is about to kick off.
BREIN, who represent the major Hollywood studios and various other film companies, has previously threatened legal action against subtitle sites on several occasions and the Free Subtitles Foundation hopes to bring an end to this.
TorrentFreak contacted Camiel Beijer, the group’s lawyer, who informed us that the case revolves 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 says.
“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 verdicts will shed more light on these two themes.”
The foundation will send out the summons next week and believes that the case is essential for the future of fansubbing in the Netherlands. It hopes that the court will side with their view that the right to freedom of expression and information trumps copyright.
The fansubbers and BREIN have discussed their differences outside of court in the past but haven’t been able to come to terms. The anti-piracy group maintains that distributing subtitles on a large-scale, or distributing subtitles that can do relatively great damage, should not be permitted.
“Creating and distributing subtitles requires permission from the copyright holder,” BREIN chief Tim Kuik tells TorrentFreak.
BREIN stresses that there are exceptions where fansubbing is allowed, when a film is in the public domain for example. However, it believes that most subtitle sites create subtitles from pirated sources to make these accessible for the Dutch market.
“BREIN can not allow that copyright infringing subtitles are distributed when they harm its members, authors, rightsholders and all others who whose income depends on legal distribution of films and TV series,” Kuik notes.
For their part the Free Subtitles Foundation argues that BREIN shouldn’t be able to threaten subtitle makers with high penalties and fines, without a clear legal basis.
The case between the fansubbers and BREIN is expected to be heard in court later this year.