Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Copyright and Contracts

Things have been hectic for me lately, so I didn’t get this posted as quickly as I was hoping to, but here finally is the video of the panel Translation Rights and Translation Wrongs that I moderated at the PEN World Voices Festival on May 1, 2011. The panel featured Erach Screwvala, who specializes in publishing law – copyrights and contracts in particular – and who appears to have a soft spot for translators, as one of his subspecialties is the translation contract,
that odd hybrid between original and derivative work. A translation is subject to copyright like any other creative work, but its copyright is linked to that of the original on which it is based. Things can quickly get confusing. But here Screwvala lays out the basic issues clearly and comprehensibly. He is joined by two writers who are also translators, Evan Fallenberg of Israel and Monika Zgustová of Spain, and I devote part of the panel to asking these two translator-authors about their double careers and the ways in which their writing and translating inform and nourish one another. The panel begins with me giving a two-minute summary of the role translation and translators play within PEN and ends with a Q&A session. If you want to skip directly to the section about translation contracts in the United States, it begins at minute 17:35.

And if you’d like to read more on the subject, check out the transcript of the intellectual property workshop for translators with Erach Screwvala that was hosted on Dec. 9, 2010 by the PEN Translation Committee at the PEN American Center.

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  1. One question that I would have, in regards to “derivative works”… I am trying to begin translation with works in Persian. As Iran is not a nation that participates in copyright laws, the copyrights for the works tend to be spread out across the globe (or, in some cases, just don’t exist at all). What, then, would be my process?

  2. Susan, thank you so much for posting this. I just discovered your site, by the way, and I’ve learned a great deal from it. I’m a beginner at translating (from Danish to English, and from French to English). I’ve only translated little excerpts, none more than eight or ten pages, from books that have interested me, some of which I’ve posted at my blog site. But I just now finished translating about eight pages by Martin A. Hansen, from Danish, and it was such a joy to translate him that I think I’m hooked. I think I want to try to do this in a more serious and sustained way than heretofore. The discussion in the video above, about the art of translating, which you moderated, touched on so much that I was just starting to realize on my own. It was exactly what I needed to see, at exactly the right time. Again, thank you. If you’re curious to see my translation of the Hansen excerpt, here is the link: http://extravagantcreation.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/orm-og-tyr-serpent-and-bull/

  3. Just a note to say that a friend of mine, who is an author, who lived in Denmark for many years, and whose wife was a literary translator, was kind enough to review my Hansen translation. He said it was competent, as far as translating the gist of Hansen’s ideas, but that my rendering of the prose into English was somewhat clumsy and tentative, and that it didn’t read fluently or elegantly. He was right, of course. So I’ve made another pass through my translation to try to address the shortcomings my friend identified. It’s clearly better now, although perhaps not all the way “there” yet. But, I’m thinking I may have finally have begun to escape the “straightjacket” I have felt mentally encased in since I started translating, i.e. the feeling of being incapable of straying more than a few millimeters away from a very literal translation. My friend has helped me to see that I have to push through this mental barrier, and that I can. But there is still so much for me to learn, so much room for improvement.

    • Richard Alpert says:

      I read your translation of the preface to Orm og Tyr. It’s a shame it hasn’t been translated before. I just noted in the 1974 introduction, by Niels Ingwersen, to the only English translation of Lucky Kristoffer, by John Jeppson Egglishaw, that Ingwerson mentions Orm og Tyr as “a book presently being translated into English” (7). One can only wonder how that ended up. Good luck with your own efforts.

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