On Feb.3, Shanghai police detained 14 people from China’s largest subtitling site Renren Yingshi (YYeTs.com) due to suspicions they pirated more than 20,000 Chinese and foreign television shows and films.
Following a three-month investigation, Renren Yingshi is suspected of managing several companies engaging in the distribution, operation, and maintenance of its video streaming app by setting up or leasing servers in China or overseas since 2018, violating copyrights, reported by local media People’s Daily.
Renren Yingshi is the top video site for foreign films and TV shows and many fans are worried they may not be able to enjoy foreign videos with quality subtitles in the future. One Weibo user wrote, “Can we ever watch shows that are original, uncensored, and with reliable captions?”
According to People’s Daily, Renren Yingshi has gained more than 8 million registered users on its site over two years.
At first, the subtitling site was run by volunteer translators who produced Chinese subtitles for foreign films and TV shows and shared their interest with the public. But as Chinese consumers’ demand for foreign films grew, many subtitling sites started to hire translators to generate Chinese subtitles for all kinds of video content, from films and TV shows to cartoons and news packages, including political pieces.
According to the police report, Renren Yingshi downloaded foreign films and tv shows from pirate websites and hired translators for 400 yuan per show to add subtitles. After the videos were released on its app, the firm would earn revenue from advertisers, pirates who reproduced the shows, and VIPs. The firm is allegedly involved in embezzlement cases worth 16 million yuan.
Renren Yingshi faced a severe financial crisis since 2011. The firm promoted three bulk buying packages – priced at 699 yuan, 1399 yuan, and 1980 yuan respectively – for users to buy an entire hard drive worth of video content. In 2018, the firm publicly announced they were receiving digital donations from the public to alleviate financial pressure. Most of the firm’s revenue came from advertisers and sponsored pop-up windows and the firm did not charge users much for its service.
SEE ALSO: Chinese Video Platform Bilibili Eyes $2 billion in Secondary Hong Kong Listing: Report
As one of the fastest-expanding film markets in the world, China has an enormous demand for Western films. However, piracy remains a severe issue as the authorities limit the number of foreign films that can be shown in domestic theaters, providing users with an incentive to download content on their own. So much so, that in 2014, the Motion Picture Association of America blacklisted Renren Yingshi as one of the worst sources of online piracy in the world.
The Chinese government has launched several policies against piracy in the past few years. According to the National Copyright Administration of China, in 2017, the administration shut down more than 2,500 pirated streaming websites and removed more than 700,000 web links to unauthorized content.