Yowsa! Web translator upsets humor-impaired

A free Internet service that displays Web sites as if written in hillbilly talk has shut itself down because too many corporations have said, in effect, "It ain't funny."

3 min read
A free Internet service that displays Web sites as if written in hillbilly talk has shut itself down because too many corporations have said, in effect, "It ain't funny."

The Dialectizer suspended its service of "translating" Web sites two weeks ago. The service converted entire Web pages into "Redneck, Pig Latin, Elmer Fudd," and other dialects.

The conversions didn't change any material on the original site. Instead, a temporary translation was displayed in a new browser window on a user's screen.

But the owners of some translated sites were (as the Redneck converter would put it) as ticked off as a weasel in a blender.

Viewed through the Dialectizer's hillbilly prism, for example, one well-known corporate slogan becomes, "Th' quality goes in befo'e th' name goes on."

Dialectizer creator Samuel Stoddard said in a statement, "It is not worth it to me to sacrifice my peace of mind and fend off the continual onslaught of distraught corporations and Webmasters threatening legal action."

Stoddard said he plans to bring the Dialectizer back online--with a section added for Web site owners spelling out how they can prevent their sites from being translated. As of June 1 it wasn't up but a note on the site said it would be working "later this week."

Even without the ability to translate full Web pages, the site still translates any text you manually type or paste in.

The loss of the sometimes hilarious Dialectizer irked regular users. Many fans consider the service a "fair use" or "parody" tool that is specifically permitted by copyright laws.

In a relevant legal case, a device called the Game Genie was found in 1992 not to infringe on the copyright of Nintendo of America. The Game Genie plugged into Nintendo game cartridges and allowed a player to change, for example, a game character's strength rating.

The court said this was no more an infringement than someone looking through a kaleidoscope to see a fractured picture of a copyrighted artwork.

Fortunately for parody lovers, many sites other than Dialectizer continue to offer Web surfers various forms of fractured phrases.

One service that is--depending upon your religious beliefs--uproarious or sacriligeous is AskJesus.org. This site is sort of an Ask Jeeves for the church-impaired. Entire Web pages can be instantly transformed into King James editions.

For example, News.com's usual invitation for reader feedback converts into this: "Thee canst speak from a mountain whatsoever thee thinkest about a parable or column thee read upon in News.com by writing an epistle to the editor."

Another free service, the Universal Translator, re-writes Web pages into the words of an Aussie, Cockney, or Smurf.

Sites like these push the limits of good taste. Dialectizer's edgier translations, such as Jive and Swedish Chef, may offend some members of ethnic groups.

But these services define an important role played by parody, humor, and social commentary--values that are supposedly protected along with copyrights. And the existence of these sites may enhance the legal protections enjoyed by serious Internet services that convert Web content in some way.

For instance, the popular search engine Google announced a month ago that it would translate ordinary Web pages into a new Wireless Markup Language (WML) that's readable on palmtop devices and cell phones.

Another search engine, AltaVista, not only translates entire Web pages into different languages. It also performs image searches. Each search displays tiny thumbnail versions of copyrighted artwork from other sites.

To be sure, some searched sites have threatened legal actions alleging copyright infringement. But Altavista points out that a Web site owner can easily insert a single line of code to prevent that site from being operated upon. (See http://doc.altavista.com/adv_search/ast_haw_avoiding.shtml).

Image-conscious corporations could have inserted such a line to keep their sites from being parodied by the likes of Dialectizer. Instead, they chose to send threatening letters that finally wore down the service's owner.

But it remains to be seen whether legal-sounding letters will stop other parody sites from thriving. As the politically-incorrect Elmer Fudd might say, "The game's not ovew untiw the fat wady sings."

Do you know of a problem affecting consumers? Send info to tips@BrianLivingston.com. He'll send you a book of high-tech secrets free if you're the first to submit a tip he prints.