Disney Investigates Movie Subtitle Translation Leak, Wants Reddit to Identify Culprit

Disney Ant Man Translator Leak

Attorneys for The Walt Disney Company, owner of Marvel Studios, filed a subpoena request on March 10, 2023 in Los Angeles, California, to legally force Reddit to identify the party responsible for leaking a movie dialogue transcript.

Weeks before the February 17, 2023 release of the movie “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” a member of a Reddit community shared a Google Doc transcript of the film’s dialogue in Portuguese. The member of the “Marvel Studios Spoilers” group in Reddit responsible for the leak goes by the handler MSSmods.

The subpoena was filed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, a US federal law that protects intellectual property from online theft, including reproduction or distribution of copyrighted works like music, movies, text, and art.

Confidentiality is a big deal for media producers. Virtually all contracts for those involved in any cinematic production include clauses warning signatories to refrain from divulging any information related to the project. Localization companies are of course subject to these same legally binding agreements, and this leak is concerning because some media outlets are speculating that the leaker is likely a subtitler or translator.

Dialogue transcripts are essentially trade secrets. Media localizers try to enforce a chain of confidentiality down to individual translators to remain compliant with intellectual property laws.

Disney wants Reddit to release all information available on the person or persons responsible for the DMCA infringement, including names,contact information, and IP addresses. Interestingly, the language on Reddit’s Copyright Help Center seems to focus on what copyright owners must do instead of what members must not do that might constitute copyright infringement.

Reddit’s content policy has no language dealing explicitly with copyright infringement either. However, its User Agreement states that “Reddit respects the intellectual property of others and requires that users of our Services do the same. We have a policy that includes the removal of any infringing material from the Services and for the termination, in appropriate circumstances, of users of our Services who are repeat infringers.”

On fair use of content, the Reddit policy states that “Whether or not a use of a copyrighted work qualifies as fair use is determined by the courts.”  

Legally speaking, this case could be consequential, not only for Reddit members, but also to the translation and subtitling industries if the infringing party is publicly identified as being connected to those professions. 

The subpoena asks Reddit to override its own policy about member privacy, and if the policies mentioned above are any indication, Reddit will let the courts decide the fate of the “infringer.”