I recently received a query apropos of a blog post on copyright law asking what to do in the case of works translated from the Persian/Farsi: “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?”
“It’s true that Iran and the United States don’t have a copyright relationship. There are copyright laws in Iran, but Iran doesn’t follow international copyright laws, and that makes things more complicated. Iranians often publish and translate American texts without permission. However, as you know, many U.S. publishers won’t publish a work without permission. In general, the best course is to follow the international copyright laws.
“For older works, there is obviously no problem. It should also be easy to get the rights from most living authors. Many Iranian writers include copyright information in their books and ask that permission be secured before their work is used. Sometimes when you contact them they may also ask for compensation, especially in the case of a famous prose author.
“It is more complicated, however, when an author has recently died. I believe the rights can be retained for a period of 30 years after the death of the author. I would try to see who has the rights – usually a person designated by the author or a family member – but this may be hard to determine and substantiate. For example, for Forugh her sister held the rights and for Shamlu his wife has the rights. You can ask the Iranian publishers for information, and you can even get permission to publish from them, though they may not be interested in helping unless they get paid. Their consent also doesn’t guarantee that they had the permission of the author or the author’s heirs to begin with. I know of anthologies published in Iran that included my friends’ poems without their having authorized the publication, even though there are copyright laws in Iran.
“Publishers determine royalties, but if a work can make money, as with a popular novel, there may be the additional complication of agreeing on what the author’s share will be. I have spoken with Persian authors who complained about not receiving any royalties from their Iranian publishers after their books were published in the U.S.”
This sounds much more complicated than dealing, as I most often do, with German copyright law, which works much the same way as in the United States except in the question of when works enter the public domain. In the U.S., all works published before 1923 are in the public domain, but under German law, published works of literature remain under copyright until 70 years following the death of the author. Now I’m wondering which law should apply to the works of Roland Barthes…