Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fansubbers vs. Copyrighters

Julie McDonough Dolmaya, of Toronto's York University, sends me an amusing but cautionary tale about fansubbers and the pitfalls of copyright. Fansubbers, in case you don't know, are
“people who painstakingly do their own translations and subtitles on programs they love, and then put them up on the Web on places like YouTube.”
As it's unpaid, most of them are Native Translators who’ve presumably learnt their skill from watching previous examples, although this is something that needs more research. (For other posts about them, enter fansubbing in the Search box on the right).

“What happens when you bring together the internet, a niche international fan base, and an obscure German soap opera… Hand aufs Herz (Hand on Heart)? Quite possibly, the future of television. It sounds harmless and probably good for publicity, right? Well, the broadcasters aren’t always so keen.”
The programme may not be a leading one in Germany, but it has a large international lesbian following. You can see why from the picture above and the following translated dialogue sample:
“First I was afraid but now I THINK: we will survive!
Because we’re talking about a revolution!

Hand aufs Herz, even if you seem to be a million miles away at the moment, there ain’t no mountain high enough and you’re in my sweet dreams - just the way you are - you are so beautiful, my genie in a bottle, my kiss from a rose.

No matter if I were a boy or a son of a preacherman, no matter if you want me to get the party started in English or fight for you in German: Nur mit dir macht fernsehen Spaß und wir werden keinen Zentimeter zurückweichen.” (The last sentence is left untranslated.)
There’s also subtitling in Italian as well as in Chinese, both traditional and simplified – though as someone comments, the dialogue is so simple that the double Chinese orthography is hardly necessary.

The complication in this case is that the fansubbers didn’t translate entire episodes. They selected just those portions that most interest a niche lesbian audience and packaged them together on their own website, ignoring other characters in the drama. The Jenny and Emma storyline was really intended to be only a secondary one. “Essentially they’re creating their own show out of an existing one,” and called it Jemma. Then the Herz auf Hand creators struck back. They invoked copyright and forced YouTube to remove all the Jemma clips. Of course bootleg copies abounded on other sites and blogs, but they too were forced off within hours, as was that of one poster who plaintively declared, “I own nothing. This is for non-profit. No copyright infringement intended.”

Finally, however, the outcry was so loud that the originating TV station, SAT1, caved in:
“SAT1 came up with an unprecedented plan: They set up a place on their official website where Jemma fans could watch every Jemma scene from the very beginning. And not just German fans — SAT1 decided not to geoblock the Jemma clips. Viewers from around the world are welcome to watch all Jemma scenes, and the last five full episodes.
When SAT1 launched the test phase of their viewing plan, fan sites got back to business. Jemma International set up a website offering translations for Jemma clips and for whole episodes. And Jenny and Emma International utilized the GreenFish Subtitle Player. You just load their translations into the program, and a semi-transparent subtitle window plays over the official Hand aufs Herz clips.”
The first moral of the story is obvious: fansubbers ought to check the copyright of the material they translate and make sure they have permission before they re-broadcast it. The second is that the fansubbing movement has become a rising tide that’s impossible to hold back, and that it especially benefits groups which might not appear attractive to commercial sponsors.

Julie McDonough Dolmaya’s own blog is at present showing some interesting preliminary data about the translators for Wikipedia. Go to the Blogging about translation and localization button in the list to the right.

The Art and Commerce of Fan Love. Spark 151, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation podcast, 2011.

Hand aufs Herz. Wikipedia, 2011.

Jenny and Emma International.
It gives German source clips and multilingual subtitles.

Heather Hogan. Glee, Hand aufs Herz fans demand more from lesbian TV storylines and get it. AfterEllen, “the pop culture site that plays for your team”, 2011.

Image: Photo from Lili-Fee.


  1. Wow, how very coincidental. I happen to watch this show, but only to improve my German listening comprehension. Glad to see it mentioned though.

  2. Heya,
    I'm ami from the Jemmainternational page (which you forgot to link to by the way,*cough,cough*;-)
    Love the article!
    After the youtube clean sweep the production company performed, the show decided to host the content themselves on their page, and made it available to their international fanbase by ungeoblocking it.
    However,small show, they lacked the man(women)power (a lot of us are lesbian;-)to sub the clips.
    The jemmainternational page has from the very beginning been created as a means to make it possible for non-German speakers to navigate the official site,with the official content.
    The pics for the individual clips and eps have been screenshottet as to be identical to the ones featured on the official "Hand aufs Herz" site,to make it less confusing for international viewers.
    I think that is the very reason, that we're an open secret, known about and tolerated, and not been taken down or asked to be taken down..yet.
    We don't host any visual content ourselves, and link back to the original site.
    Same goes for the jenny and emma international blogspot(which arose out of the selfsame yt channel) They host the player options and files, but no actual visual content..
    It's a sort of symbiosis..endemic to "Hand aufs Herz" Land, since this I believe,has been the first time, a show has picked up such a massive international fanbase through its subbed yt presence (larger than the actual TV viewership, by far), managed to nilch out said online presence almost completely through copyright issues and the production company, and then,somehow managed to legally and technically ungeoblock it for their worldwide fans, hosting it themselves.
    Since the show is such a small show and its people so dedicated, we thought we'd help them out a bit, by not making "Hand aufs Herz" only available to fans in other countries, of other tongues, but also accessible.
    On a side note..I forgot how many languages and people translate for Jenny and Emma international (Hi guys!) but they had 22 languages,or something along those lines?
    We (Jemmainternational, confused yet?;-)have about 10 languages(including Indonesian, Greek and Japanese),last time I counted.Full eps ae done in four. (Since they're only up for a week, and most translate from the English, it's a time issue,mostly)And we are completely independent from each other, which means, completely different groups of translators and translations, just imagine the amount of people behind this! sounds so nice, doesn't it?
    Sadly, the channel canceled the show, because of its lack in real,life TV viewers..they failed in making use of their incredible online audience, which surpassed the TV ratings by three or four times.
    What a shame, but it goes to show, that shows and fans can coexist in a manner that is beneficiary to both!If the owner's could only reap the benefits.
    And by the way: Translating Teen Speak is not as fun and easy as it maybe sounds;-)
    Quite a challenge to have a bunch of delinquents and the sexy principal in one room.Not just for the eyes;-)