Translation copyright

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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Carleton Copeland
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Location: Moscow, Russia

Translation copyright

Post by Carleton Copeland » Thu Oct 25, 2007 1:30 pm

This may be a bit complicated, but please bear with me. I recently translated a book from Russian into English for a German foundation. I agreed in advance on a lumpsum fee to be paid by the foundation rather than by the publisher. The book is to be published in four languages, and my English translation is now being translated into German and Mongolian. A very experienced translator I work with here in Moscow insists that my translation is an original work protected under the Berne Convention and that I'm entitled to an additional fee each time my translation is retranslated - even if the translations are all to be published in the same volume. Can someone tell me if there's any basis to this claim?

rubberstamp
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Re: Translation copyright

Post by rubberstamp » Sat Oct 27, 2007 2:04 pm

IANAL and am not practised in this field but it would seem relatively straightforward.

The owner of a copyright work has the exclusive right to adapt that work - and a translation is an adaptation. Outside of fair-dealing considerations, a translation will therefore require permission.

The translation in itself will only attract further copyright in so far as the translator's skill and effort has gone into it - this means that the translation work, but only that, is an original work in which exclusive rights subsist. A further translation of the translation relies on the earlier skill and effort and is thus an adaptation of the first translator's work (and the original author's naturally).

Of course, we need to consider is who the actual owners are and this depends on the jurisdiction. The owner is normally the creator but in the case of employment it is often the employer that owns the work. In the case of commissioning an adaptation/translation, it would be the height of stupidity not to get the copyright assigned back to the commissioner via the contract. Is this not common in translation work or are royalties typical?

So assuming you own the copyright of the translation you certainly have rights in principle in regards to the publication of adaptations of this translation. It does not matter about the form of publication, be it as a collected work or not. However, you are basically under the thumb of the original copyright owner and your rights will be limited by the nature of the permission given to you.

The Berne Convention says nothing about fees - just rights. I would recommend reading any contracts you have signed to see which rights you retain and those which you have assigned away.

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