Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Can a Translation Be Made From a Translation?

Dear Rich: I am working on a book translation project. The book was written in one language and then translated into a second language (English). Now, a company wants to translate the book from English into a third language. Does the primary rights holder have the right to weigh in on this aspect of using their material -- that is, can they yes or no to use of their material based on which language translation is used to get their material into the third language? If yes, what is that right called? Does the subsidiary rights holder to the English translation have a say? What rights would they grant the the third language publisher? What do I call those rights? The rights are called subsidiary translation rights (or some variation). The copyright owner of the book -- probably the author, author's estate, or a publisher -- controls the right to make these derivative versions. (A translation is a derivative work). Often, an author or publisher divvies up translation rights in conjunction with foreign distribution rights. So, for example, the author may grant French translation and distributon rights to a publisher in Paris. That license may have conditions -- for example, the author must approve the choice of French translator, or the translator must work from a specific edition of the work. So, you'll need to contact the primary copyright holder for permission and ask whether there are any restrictions on translation.
What about using the English translation? Each translation is considered a separate derivative copyright, initially owned by the translator. If the translation copyright is assigned to someone other than the book's copyright owner -- for example, a foreign publisher --  you may need two permissions. In any case, the primary copyright holder should have all the answers.
Does this seem confusing? It will become even more confusing when the courts deal with "translation data."