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Foreign Lyrics Question

Posted: Thu Sep 02, 2021 2:49 pm
by Gpel1992
I understand that legally you should not publish lyrics that don't belong to you as you don't own the poetry and the original author has the right to be paid royalties for their work that you have republished.

From a legal point of view, If I wanted to post the lyrics of a song in Japanese, could I publish the 'pronunciation' of the Japanese words in Romanised form for western audiences to enable them to read along with them?

For example, the Japanese phrase '恋の運命は' would be pronounced and written in Roman characters as 'koi no unmei wa'.

I feel like I already know the answer but it seems a bit of a grey area - is romanisation recognised as a legal issue or just a moral one?

Many thanks,

Re: Foreign Lyrics Question

Posted: Thu Sep 02, 2021 6:26 pm
by AndyJ
Hi Gpel,

That's a really interesting question. If you were translating the Japanese version into English, and did so without permission, that would amount to infringement because making a translation of a work is something which the author needs to authorise (see section 21 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, and for the international perspective, Article 8 of the Berne Convention).

However you are not translating the works, you are merely making a phonetic transliteration, which I am not at all sure would be seen, legally speaking, as being the same as translation. In doing that you are not copying the actual words. Theoretically, if someone then uses your phonetic version to sing the song, they would be performing the original (albeit possibly quite badly as far as a Japanese listener is concerned). Again theoretically, that would be an infringing performance if done without permission. But you as the author of the phonetic version would not be responsible for authorising the infringing performance. And so my first instinct was that there would be no infringement. However, there are a number of landmark court cases* in which it has been held that taking the whole of a work and reproducing it using entirely different words, did amount to infringement because a substantial part of the original was copied - in this case that would be the phonetic similarity between the two versions. And so on that basis, I think you would probably be infringing the original lyrics. However that is just my opinion, and I can't think of a previous court case which featured the same circumstances as in your question.

* For example in a famous House of Lords case called Designers Guild Ltd v Russell Williams Ltd Lord Hoffman said " the original elements in the plot of a play or novel may be a substantial part, so that copyright may be infringed by a work which does not reproduce a single sentence of the original." The actual case was not about a play or a novel, but the artistic design incorporated in a wallpaper.

Re: Foreign Lyrics Question

Posted: Fri Sep 03, 2021 6:53 pm
by Gpel1992
Hi Andy,

Thanks for your insight and prompt response, definitely a good read for my situation. I guess with the internet and publishing online laws are always evolving and I thought this would be the case.

Thanks again for you help.