French Translators Protest Amazon Contracts

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For several years now, the Amazon Crossing branch of the book-selling (and now publishing) giant has been having large quantities of foreign-language literature translated into English, focussing in particular – though certainly not exclusively – on works of popular fiction deemed not literary enough for translation by most of the publishing houses specializing in international literature. Some well-known and respected translators have worked for Amazon, as have large numbers of translators who aren’t otherwise known in the field. There’s been some controversy about Amazon’s contracting – last I heard, translators in the U.S. were still being required to sign non-disclosure agreements concerning their contracts, which of course significantly reduces their ability to compare notes with their colleagues. If this requirement has since been lifted, I would love to hear about it.

Amazon Crossing has recently gone international, translating books into German and Spanish – and now also Italian and French. In France this week a certain uproar has arisen around an open letter to Amazon presented by ATLF, the Association des Traducteurs Littéraires de France (French Literary Translators’ Association), protesting not only the non-disclosure agreements but also and above all the Amazon contracts’ disregard for regular contract practices and laws in France, particularly with regard to “droit moral” (moral rights), a key concept in European law but not in the U.S. or Luxembourg, where Amazon’s European branch is based. ATLF has accused Amazon of forcing translators to sign contracts that are illegal under French law, signing away rights to their work that should be inalienably theirs while preventing them from talking about this or consulting others. The ATLF letter also notes that the payment scheme offered in the Amazon contracts amounts to only around a third of the sums usually paid for the same work in France, and that the contracts permit Amazon to reject any translation at its own discretion, requiring the return of the initial advance paid to the translator. I would certainly sign no such thing.

An abbreviated account of the letter in English can be found here, with more detail in French here. Here is the open letter itself.

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