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How do I ensure that I will have rights to the on-stage presentation of my translation?
Thread poster: Barbara Cochran, MFA
Barbara Cochran, MFA  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
Aug 16, 2007

This summer I did a French to English translation of a play. I received a per word rate and was told by the publisher that I will receive a byline on the English-language version as translator as well as rights to any English-language presentations of the play. The publisher quoted the original author in an e-mail to me, stating the same. Does anyone know what I have to do to ensure that all the above takes place? The publisher, in the end, was very close-mouthed about it when I asked him what I needed to do (after he had my translation). Is there any agreement that is supposed to be signed between the original author and the translator in this case? The original author is in Belgium and I am in the United States.

Thank you for your help.

femme


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Claudia Krysztofiak  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:45
English to German
+ ...
Written contract? Aug 16, 2007

As far as I know, there usually is a written contract between the publisher and the original author, where the author grants the publisher certain rights to use his work for certain purposes (e.g. to have it translated and published in another language).

And there is a written contract between the publisher and the translation author (translator), where the translator grants the publisher certain rights to use the translation for certain purposes.

Of course always against the payment of an agreed amount of money for the different purposes.

National laws may differ in this matter, but at least in Germany you do not need to have any agreement with the original author.

So you just would have to look into your contract with the publisher to see what rights you granted them and how you are paid for this.


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Jan Willem van Dormolen  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 15:45
English to Dutch
+ ...
Different for different countries Aug 16, 2007

Copyright issues vary with the different laws that exist in different countries.
To be sure you have to:
- research copyright law in Belgium
- research copyright law in US
- establish which of those countries has jurisdiction over your translation
- explicitly make up a written agreement with the publisher about what rights you have kept and what rights you have sold (and this has to be in agreement with the applicable law)

Not an easy task by all means.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 15:45
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Some answers and thumb sucking... Aug 16, 2007

femme wrote:
I received a per word rate and was told by the publisher that I will receive a byline on the English-language version as translator as well as rights to any English-language presentations of the play.


Different countries have different rules about whether the author can and does sign away his rights when he gets paid for the work. I'm under the impression that in the USA, the translator loses copyright of a translation if he gets paid for the translation. In ZA, the translator retains copyright of the translation even if he gets paid for it, with exceptions if he is an employee of the client's.

With "byline" you mean being acknowledged as the author of the translation, right? Yes, it is a moral right. I'm under the impression that moral rights are treated very differently in the USA as compared to the Continent. The publsiher was simply confirming that you're not signing away your right to be acknowledged as the author of the translation.

I'm not sure what "rights to presentations of the play" means. Does he mean you get royalties for performances? This, too, is normal in many countries, unless you're specifically signing away those rights. Again, I suspect the publisher was simply confirming your rights.

Does anyone know what I have to do to ensure that all the above takes place?


There is nothing you can do, except keep a close eye on the theatre industry to see if your play gets performed without you getting in on it. How eager the publisher will be in ensuring that you get your royalties depends on how likely it is that you will sue him if he doesn't, and also on whether there is an organisation in his country that acts on behalf of script writers and has the power to sue on their behalf.

Is there any agreement that is supposed to be signed between the original author and the translator in this case?


I suspect (without grounds) that Belgian copyright law might be on your side, so the main thing is to ensure that your existing contract does not contain a clause that says the opposite of what the publisher had said in his e-mail. If Belgian copyright law grants the script writer (and the translator, because he is also a script writer in terms of the Berne Convention) rights to royalties automatically, then it will be included in the deal, unless it is specifically excluded.

The original author is in Belgium and I am in the United States.


Actually, if the play is performed in another country without the Belgian publisher's consent, then neigher Belgian law nor United States law will be relevant. The local copyright laws always determine the case. But if the Belgian publisher gets paid, then so must you.

Whether the Belgian publisher is under any obligation to insist or ensure that the performers of the play in that other country respect your right to be acknowledged, is a matter for Belgian law.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 10:45
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Copyright it Aug 16, 2007

I am no lawyer, but as you are in the USA, have a look at http://www.loc.gov/copyright . AFAIK registering your translation there will give you the rights to THAT English version of yours. No way to prevent anyone from translating it again from French (as the author has the original copyright) and leaving you out on a limb.

While you have been paid for your work, this will ensure that you get credit for your translation whenever it's due. As a matter of ethics, when you get your certificate from the LC, you should send a copy to your client, confirming a few things:
1. That you received payment for the translation.
2. That this payment comprised not only your translation work, but you assigning them full rights to publish your translation of the play as they wish.
3. That your name shall always be credited as the translator on every publication.
4. That you'll get whatever payment agreed (be specific, if you can) from each enactment of that play in English.

Anyway, keep a printout of those e-mails.

I wrote a book in both Portuguese and English. In spite of having been told that either one would have been enough, I registered its Brazilian version with the Biblioteca Nacional and the English version with the US Library of Congress. Maybe there is no need for you to do registering in Belgium.


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Barbara Cochran, MFA  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank You Very Much Aug 17, 2007

I have found everyone's comments on this page so helpful that I printed out the page for current and future reference even though copyright laws are subject to change, like everything else. I actually decided to contact the original author of the play last night since his e-mail appeared on the title page of the original and he wrote back. He sent me to the website where my translation has been initially published and he did indeed give me full credit as the author/translator of the English version, right under his name. He said as far as my rights to any English-language productions (I believe he means "royalties," but will have to clarify later), he did inform me that an agreement will have to be written up. In any event, I plan to promote my version to production companies here in the United States.

Thanks for the link to the United States Copyright Office, José. I have already written them tonight, but will probably have to call them as my issues are not that simple. I'll see what they (and the original author) think about registering my translation in Belgium. But as far as I'm concerned, navigating through all those voice prompts on the phone will be well worth the clarifications when I finally get a live person.

Thanks Again, Everyone,

femme

[Edited at 2007-08-17 02:26]

[Edited at 2007-08-17 02:27]


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xxxjmd  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:45
English to Slovenian
+ ...
the author is not necessarily the one you have to ask for permission Aug 20, 2007

femme wrote:

was told by the publisher that I will receive a byline on the English-language version as translator as well as rights to any English-language presentations of the play. The publisher quoted the original author in an e-mail to me, stating the same.

Is there any agreement that is supposed to be signed between the original author and the translator in this case? The original author is in Belgium and I am in the United States.

Thank you for your help.

femme


Hello,

The author may have an agent who represents him or he may have assigned the right to give permission for translation to the publisher. The publisher is obliged to provide a contract which must state how much you get, how your work will be used, royalties for presentation, where in the publication will your name appear - on the cover, inside title page etc. There's nothing simpler than calling your publisher up to say hi how are you and ask when will you get to sign the contract based on the content of e-mails you mention.

As it is the publisher who asked you to do the translation, he has to obtain permission for translation if he wants to publish it.

Permission usually costs a percentage based of the print run. Permissions can be exclusive or non-exclusive, and are usually given for a set length of time.

Copyright on translation means that no one is allowed to use or adapt your work without your permission. Registering your work with the US Copyright Office is a good thing to do in any case.

Hope this help a bit.
Mia Dintinjana


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