Last month, I wrote here on abledbody.com about a new captioning application for the iPhone that lets deaf and hard-of-hearing moviegoers follow the dialogue of almost any movie in any movie theater in the nation. Subtitles, as this app is called, was developed by Dan Walker, who did not realize that it would greatly benefit deaf and hard-of-hearing moviegoers. Movies are hardly ever captioned; deaf and hard-of-hearing people usually frequent select movie theaters that show movies with open captions or use the Rear Window Caption System, usually at specific times of day. Because I am deaf, using the Subtitles app I was able to watch “Avatar” at my local movie theater in New York City, two blocks away from my home, for the first time — even though I have lived in this neighborhood for four years.
Earlier this week, Dan Walker was notified by Apple that his app violated movie studio copyrights relating to transcripts, and rejected his latest update, version 1.8 (a minor modification in response to changes at OpenSubtitles.org, the transcript supplier). The Subtitles app stopped working.
Here is an excerpt from the letter from Apple:
Thank you for submitting Subtitles to the App Store. We’ve reviewed Subtitles and determined that we cannot post your application because it appears to include features /images from a Walt Disney, Warner Bros., and Lucas Films productions. Disney, Warner Bros., and Lucas Films have previously objected to other applications that include features from any of their productions, and believes that such features infringe its rights.
Please remember that pursuant to your agreement with Apple, you represent and warrant that your application does not infringe the rights of another party, and that you are responsible for any liability to Apple because of a claim that your application infringes another party’s rights. Moreover, we may reject or remove your application for any reason, in our sole discretion.
In an e-mail to his Subtitles users, Dan Walker wrote, “I’ve got my fingers crossed we’ll be able to get version 1.7 working and at least prolong the death of this App until Apple yanks it altogether.”
The next day, OpenSubtitles.org dialed back its changes and version 1.7, the latest update, is working again. Walker has made the app free for now (it was $0.99 earlier), but he is concerned that Apple will eventually pull his app from the App Store.
“I made the decision to make Subtitles free,” says Walker, “given its uncertain future and the fact I’m unable to support it through updates. My main goal now is to ensure Subtitles lives on.”
It is an interesting development, considering that his app simply pulls movie transcripts from an open-source platform, OpenSubtitles.org, without any editing of content or for any use besides enabling customers to view the subtitles on a mobile device in a time-controlled format.
I admit to being surprised myself about the existence of OpenSubtitles.org, as I had always assumed all movie elements – audio, video, and the dialogue transcript itself – are owned by the studios that produce the movies. I certainly had not heard of this open-source movie transcript platform until a friend alerted me to the Subtitles app.
However, as long as OpenSubtitles.org exists, the Subtitles app should have the right to remain in the AppStore and be available to deaf and hard-of-hearing iPhone users. Subtitles is a great portable tool for deaf moviegoers who do not have the same opportunities as their hearing counterparts — to watch a movie of their choice, wherever and whenever.