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Copyright of translated folk remedies

Posted: Sun Feb 12, 2012 12:14 pm
by Adam Kadmon

I am considering publishing a collection of folk remedies translated from another language - but I wonder whether my investment will be protected by copyright law.

The texts are folk remedies written down in old manuscripts, with no identifiable original author and the original recorder long dead. My publication will be licenced by the translator, whom I will pay copyright. But would it be lawful for someone else to paraphrase the translator's words ie give the traditional remedy/recipe - but using their own words.

Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

My best wishes


Posted: Sun Feb 12, 2012 2:45 pm
by AndyJ
Hi Ben,
As you have identified, the translator should be entilted to copyright protection for his skill and intellectual effort in making the translations, even though the original work itself may be out of copyright (assuming it was ever in copyright). This would not be the case if something like Google Translate had been used as that largely excludes the human skill necessary.
So the protection the translator gains is the same as for any other literary work: namely that a substantial part of his work may not be copied without permission, subject to several specific exemptions which I don't think we need to consider here. Paraphrasing someone else's work may well infringe if that which is copied forms the essence of the original work. Normally it would be up to a court to make this judgement. One of the obvious problems the translator would face is that since the foreign language version of these remedies is in the public domain, anyone with the necessary skill (or access to Google Translate) could make their own translations, and it would be the complainant's job to prove that any alleged infringer had in fact copied his work, and not come to a similar form of words independently.
You, as the publisher, would also have some protection for the typographical layout of your edition. But that only protects against facsimile copying (eg photocopying or a similar photographic reproduction) and would not prevent someone putting your work through OCR software and then re-setting the type in a different layout.
Unless you are an exclusive licensee you will have no right to take infringement claims through the courts, other than over the typographical layout aspect. An exclusive licence debars even the copyright owner from exploiting his work in parallel with the licensee.

Posted: Sun Feb 12, 2012 3:51 pm
by Adam Kadmon
Thank you.

This reply is really useful and is greatly appreciated.

With my best wishes