A Rant about recent site takedowns

19 Feb 2017

Recently; there has been some takedowns that sparked a bit of noise in the Turkish interwebs. So, the thing is, there were quite a few websites for movie/tv series subtitles and many of them were simultaneously taken down recently (notably altyazi.org and divxplanet.org). As far as we’re aware, the takedowns were voluntary and the websites basically folded under the pressure of a litigation threat. So, in the future we might actually see a couple more of them, the ones that were threatened but not folded yet, but this time taken down forcefully, either following a court verdict or without waiting for one (we all know how ‘liberal’ can Turkish State be when it comes to unnecessary displays of force).

So, the thing is, I’m definitely not a proponent of IP laws, and definitely not a big proponent of how current music/film/tv production industries handle copyrights. I think they’re doing the general human welfare a great disservice, and even doing themselves a great disservice, forcing themselves into an eventual obscurity. Nor do I think that subtitles are unnecessary, they’re for losers/whatever and the users of subtitles should go learn better English. In fact, I’m a subtitle user myself, just not when watching shows in English (they’re super useful for watching Bron/Broen :D).

Example of a blocked site (yes, I was looking for a reason to put a PornHub screenshot)

To come to the real issue at hand here, yes the Turkish government has the dictatorship-itis disease and has had it for a really long time. But thankfully, they don’t seem to care too much about protecting non-Turkish producers’ IP. The main problem was that the websites were actually infringing on content creators’ copyrights by distributing subtitles ripped from official DVD releases. Yes, the most popular subtitles were actually user-created. There’s the problem of users creating the most popular subtitles not being compensated, or not even being mentioned, but the real problem is the ripped subtitles. Big content creators legally own their copyrights, they’re in their right to litigate against you and (being somewhat of assholes with fairly big pockets) THEY WILL DO THAT. Or in this case, them threatening to do that is bad enough because you know that you can’t really escape from that. Not even by moving your server to somewhere where the Turkish government can’t reach (As of 2017, there are no countries on earth with super duper lax IP laws. We missed the train last year and the pirates couldn’t get into power in Iceland). Though Russia etc. might work for now.

So, if they weren’t hosting those subtitles ripped from DVD in the first place; either (a) these threat’s wouldn’t happen or (b) the websites would be in a significantly better position against the legal threats. Really, there’s pretty much nothing a movie producer can claim against subtitles that they didn’t produce, even in ridiculously pro-Copyright jurisdictions. In the case of Turkey, there might be a problem of corruption within the judiciary, thus getting a bogus ruling against you. But in that case, simply starting to host the site abroad would be a good enough move (they were probably already doing that, who in their right minds would even host a website in Turkey?) if they were thinking about the availability of the subtitles, not maximizing profit. Also; mind that this is a relatively temporary problem. Existing as long as the current wishes it to.

In the end, there are three possible solutions to that. The first one is quite obvious; reform the laws so that the IP laws are much more lax. The second is complying with the current set of laws. i.e. not hosting copyrighted content. And the third one is; if we desire to continue operating illegally, stop centrally hosting these things in a centralized location and simply do what the pirates did about a decade ago; decentralize everything. To all the people saying “not a big thing. another alternative will pop up”. But that’s not a permanent solution. That’s not even the best solution we have. The best one we have is using a decentralized protocol; like bittorrent, and transform the website from one that hosts the files into one that is a search engine for magnet links, thus easily backupable and replaceable, a la piratebay, plus maybe hosting the non-copyrighted subtitles in a server that seeds the torrent network. A potential takedown of that server would only be a temporary hindrance, a distruption.

However, that solution will probably come at a cost; a cost to the profits of the operators. The final lesson to be learned from that is that you can’t continue operating a business and turn a profit and expect to be safe while operating illegally, exact same problem that exists with drug dealers. You don’t get too attached to your dealer and complain when the guy’s arrested. So, we either continue operating a business, scale it back to legal limits; change laws so that what we’re doing is legal (legalize it); or stop being a business. We need to decide what we want from that. A business that hosts subtitle files and makes profit or a non-profit that ensures the availability of the subtitle files.

Oh; and also, #hayir.