Cyber-translators fall foul of the law
Enthusiasts who offer subtitles for popular US shows are facing legal action.27 May 2008
MADRID - Few people have heard of them, but their websites get thousands of hits and allow fans to understand the swearwords used by Dr House, the star of the popular US television series that many Spaniards follow.
Cyber-translators exist. There are dozens of websites providing subtitles for movies and television shows, translated and uploaded for free.
Octavio Álamo, a 26-year-old from the Canary Islands, is one of them. His website, Wikisubtitles.net, was taken down from the internet last week.
"I received an email from the Anti-Piracy Federation (FAP) demanding that I shut it down. They were threatening legal action," says the telecommunications engineer.
FAP was born in 1984 to defend intellectual property rights, and according to them, Álamo's web "places a large amount of cinematographic work at users' disposal" and "distributes, for profit, all or part of a protected work."
"But I wasn't charging or distributing anything," says Álamo, who published details of the case on his website. Bloggers picked up the story, and Meneame.net, a website where users vote on the best news stories of the day, put it at the top of the list.
Meanwhile, Bluehost - the service provider for Wikisubtitles - shut down the site themselves. "I got in touch with them but they refused to budge. I threatened to have my lawyer call them. According to him, if it is not for profit they can't do anything to me," said Álamo.
Less than two hours later, his website was back up again, although he eventually decided to shut it down himself.
In Poland, however, the administrators of a subtitles website called Napisy.org were arrested last year.
"There is a European directive on electronic commerce," said Javier de la Cueva, a lawyer specialising in internet issues. "Each country has its own interpretation."
In Spain, website links are regulated by the Information Society Services Act (LSSI). "They are not a crime unless you receive authenticated notice regarding the illegal content you are linking to," he said.
"Although a not-for-profit activity such as translating subtitles is not a crime, it could violate property law," said another attorney, David Bravo.
The reason is that subtitles are derived from intellectual property and cannot be translated without the author's consent. "There is a gap between the law and social habits. The problem is not FAP, but the power that the law grants it," he added.
José Manuel Tourné, FAP's director, defends himself: "Other European countries have harsher laws against piracy. Spain is lagging behind, because only a judge can decide whether it is a crime."
[El Pais / Maria Ovelar / Expatica]