Arrr! - What We Can Learn from Pirates

Sep 11, 2013 · 2 min

NEW YORK, March 6, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Translated subtitles are a wonderful tool for those who either can't read the official language of a movie or TV show or are suffering from deafness. However, anti-piracy outfits (like MPAA) argue that those who translate subtitles for pirated movies available on the internet are thieves, as the movies they translate are protected by copyright.

"Every nominee up for an Oscar this week was already translated in subtitles into at least 12 languages," said Ofer Shoshan, CEO of One Hour Translation.  "Almost all of these translations result from pirates that bootleg and distribute movies on file sharing and torrent platforms who team-up with teenagers that work together to crowd source translations of the pirated movies in record time."

Whether or not translation of movie subtitles is an illegal act is a subject of debate.  Some believe that movie scripts are considered "dramatic creations" and therefore subject to copyright law. Article 16 of the Copyrights Act states that only the primary copyright holder has the right to distribute any part of a finished product, subtitles included. However, it is unclear how this legal position is affected by subtitles translated from another language.

Many torrent forums claim that these translations are the result of hours of hard work; listening to the movie in English and translating the dialogue by hand into other languages.  On this basis, the so-called 'subbers' believe they are operating within the law.  Opponents of this phenomenon claim that a translation could be considered as a 'derivative work' and as such would require the permission of the original copyright holder.

"These subtitle translations are one of the only instances where crowd-sourcing of non-professional translators actually works," says Shoshan. "Publishers are often surprised by how quickly translations of movies pop-up in different countries. While professional translation of a movie may take a week or two when done by traditional translation agency, the crowd-sourced teenagers often produce an even better translation in matter of hours."

One Hour Translation opposes the translation of movies without the permission of the copyright holder; however the company acknowledges they have been able to learn several insights from watching this phenomenon closely:

  • The efficient use of translators located in customer time zones
  • Using other translators to do the post-translation quality assurance process
  • Keeping open communication between the customer and the end client
  • Crediting the translator publicly for good performance

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