Another reminder that what copyright destroys, unauthorised copying can save

There’s an interesting post on TorrentFreak that concerns so-called “pirate” subtitles for films. It’s absurd that anyone could consider subtitles to be piracy in any way. They are a good example of how ordinary people can add value by generously helping others enjoy films and TV programmes in languages they don’t understand. In no sense do “pirate” subtitles “steal” from those films and programmes, they manifestly enhance them. And yet the ownership-obsessed copyright world actively pursues people who dare to spread joy in this way. In discussing these subtitles, TorrentFreak mentions a site that I’ve not heard of before, Karagarga:

an illustrious BitTorrent tracker that’s been around for more than 18 years. Becoming a member of the private community isn’t easy but those inside gain access to a wealth of film obscurities.

The site focuses on archiving rare classic and cult movies, as well as other film-related content. Blockbusters and other popular Hollywood releases can’t be found on the site as uploading them is strictly forbidden.

TorrentFreak links to an article about Karagarga published some years ago by the Canadian newspaper National Post. Here’s a key point it makes:

It’s difficult to overstate the significance of such a resource. Movies of unflagging historical merit are otherwise lost to changes in technology and time every year: film prints are damaged or lost, musty VHS tapes aren’t upgraded, DVDs fall out of print without reissue, back catalogues never make the transition to digital. But should even a single copy of the film exist, however tenuously, it can survive on Karagarga: one person uploads a rarity and dozens more continue to share.

Although that mentions things like film prints being lost, or back catalogues that aren’t converted to digital formats, the underlying cause of films being lost is copyright. It is copyright that prevents people from making backups of films, whether analogue or digital. Even though people are painfully aware of the vulnerability of films that exist in a few copies or even just one copy, it is generally illegal for them to do anything about it, because of copyright. Instead, they must often sit by as cinematic masterpieces are lost forever.

Unless, of course, sites like Karagarga make unauthorised digital copies. It’s a great demonstration of the fact that copyright, far from preserving culture, often leads to its permanent loss. And that supposedly “evil” sites like Karagarga are the ones that save it for posterity.

Featured image by dimitriwittmann.

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