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This article was published on April 21, 2017


Court rules fan subtitles on TV and movies are illegal

Court rules fan subtitles on TV and movies are illegal
Rachel Kaser
Story by

Rachel Kaser

Internet Culture Writer

Rachel is a writer and former game critic from Central Texas. She enjoys gaming, writing mystery stories, streaming on Twitch, and horseback Rachel is a writer and former game critic from Central Texas. She enjoys gaming, writing mystery stories, streaming on Twitch, and horseback riding. Check her Twitter for curmudgeonly criticisms.

Subtitle lovers, beware: a court just ruled that making fan subtitles or translations is not protected by the law.

A Dutch group called (translated) the Free Subtitles Foundation took anti-piracy group BREIN to court over “fansubbing.” BREIN has previously been active in taking fan subtitles and translations offline, and the Foundation was hoping a Dutch court would come down on the side of fair use.

The court didn’t quite see it that way. It ruled that making subtitles without permission from the property owners amounted to copyright infringement. BREIN wasn’t unsympathetic, but said it couldn’t allow fansubbers to continue doing what they’re doing (using the word “illegal” so many times I’ve almost forgotten what it means):

With this decision in hand it will be easier for BREIN to maintain its work against illegal subtitlers and against sites and services that collect illegal subtitles and add movies and TV shows from an illegal source.

While this only effects the Free Subtitles Foundation and BREIN at the moment, it could set legal precedent for subtitle-makers all over the world.

In the meantime, subtitlers should probably throw their lot in with Netflix. At least it’s willing to pay for translations. YouTube is also endorsing crowd-sourced translation.