Communique on ARTE’s fansubbing project

On September 29th, 2016, a press release issued by the Franco-German TV channel ARTE announced the launch of a collaborative subtitling (or fansubbing) project for some of its programming into all European languages other than French, German, English, Spanish and Polish – languages for which ARTE receives public financing allowing it to turn to professional translators – in order to “enhance European linguistic diversity and expand the circulation of audio-visual programming in Europe.” This project has the backing of the European Commission.

Fansubbing is, by definition, an amateur, unpaid practice. It is illegal when the translation is broadcast without the author’s consent. Given the financial issues involved, European associations of professional audio-visual translators, under the umbrella of Audio-Visual Translators Europe (AVTE), reacted to this initiative that raises a number of questions.

A meeting with Marysabelle Cote, head of ARTE Europe, and ChloĆ© Roux, head of multilingual services resulted in a clearer definition of this project: it is intended as “an experiment to promote the channel to a young and technologically savvy European audience”, via a widespread collaborative practice, “within a secured judicial framework”. With the goal of broadening its audience, the channel fully assumes the amateur nature of the resulting translations. It will simply verify that they do not alter the meaning of the works concerned.

Rather than protest about the amateur practice of translation, AVTE is in fact pleased that European citizens should come to realize the difficulties inherent in the translation process by tackling the exercise of subtitling. However, the federation remains vigilant as to the possible misappropriation of this voluntary work for commercial goals. The confusion between a leisure activity and a profession that has its criteria of quality, demands, constraints and code of practice could have serious repercussions on the whole production chain. Translation is the language of Europe, Umberto Eco once said. As such, it requires the utmost care.

Audio-visual translators are the natural partners of ARTE, a major channel with a European vocation, committed to the circulation of audio-visual works and the cultural vitality of our continent. As a European federation of translators, AVTE is in an ideal position to imagine and implement pioneering solutions to meet future challenges, notably the coming boom in content broadcast online. In that capacity, our federation is ready to discuss with ARTE the means to effectively serve a threefold purpose: moving towards the optimized use of commissioning budgets, asserting the strategic role of translation in the chain from production to distribution, and guaranteeing audiences a rewarding and fulfilling experience.