Wednesday, 25 March 2015

On Translation Copyright Rustling

When a translator translates a book, they create a new piece of work in a new language and they then hold copyright to their translation. In the front of the books I've translated there is a note that says something like this:
First published in German as Die Kältezentrale by Inka Parei
(c) Schöffling & Co. Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 2011
First published in English translation by Seagull Books, 2014
Translation (c) Katy Derbyshire
That means that if someone wants to use my translation for some other purpose – put part of it in an anthology, make a Broadway musical out of it, print it all out in tiny letters on a poster – they have to ask me for permission first. Then I can negotiate an appropriate fee or simply refuse, if I don't want them to use my work. I'm unlikely to refuse but I do want to have some control over what happens to my creative output, understandably.

However, some publishers don't work this way, and retain copyright to translations themselves. This seems to be particularly prevalent among university presses, as Wendell Ricketts has established in a study of US translations. It's well worth reading his report, as he names the good guys and the bad guys in the business, and also goes into some of the strange practices of simply not naming the translator anywhere except in small print in the book itself. He calls on publishers to stop "copyright rustling" in this way, and also on translators to stop putting up with it.

The website No Peanuts! for Translators has launched a petition against the practice. I have signed it because I agree that it is exploitative and wrong, but I feel a little uncomfortable about the way the site is happy to name and shame translators whose copyright gets taken away from them, but doesn't put author's names under its entries. So while you can read their informative and combative piece on copyright rustling, including brusque calls upon the various US translators' associations, you can't identity the "we" who is doing the asking. Perhaps I've missed something on the website, but the only names I find there are 542 "endorsers" who presumably haven't approved each article. And I could take a self-proclaimed "movement" more seriously if it wasn't effectively anonymous.


John said...

One must very definitely give the original work that is being translated and give respect to its author, this is common sense. But today there are so many works being stolen, their ideas stolen and their works being corrupted that it is becoming a common occurrence and the worst country is France for they are trying to push their language as the most cultured language of the world. this is not only presumptions, it is also dangerous for the corrupting of truth and fact.

John said...

Anonymous said...

Don't understand this!

No Peanuts! said...

As our site makes clear, the No Peanuts! Endorsers endorse the No Peanuts! statement of principles. We don't claim that they "endorse" anything other than that and, of course, we don't submit every single post to them for approval. We're extremely glad for your support but honestly: You work in this industry and you're not clear why we need to be anonymous? What difference would it effectively make if each article were signed by its writer(s)? For No Peanuts! -- as for all activists who work "Anonymously" it's a red herring.

kjd said...

Dear No Peanuts!,

Yes, I work in this industry and I make a living while posting here about industry politics, among other subjects, under my own name.

I wish you the best of luck with the petition but I would encourage you to put a name at least to that.

Best regards,

Katy Derbyshire

Anonymous said...

And "industry politics", I don't even know what this is!
Are you running out of patience with me? love and luck for you!