question on translation authorization/usage of already copyrighted songs
Thread poster: Jeff Allen

Jeff Allen  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:30
+ ...
Sep 20, 2012

Hello all,

I have a specific question about the authorization to translate songs of a source language (usually English songs) which are under copyright and the use of such translated songs in public events.

Songs in a source language under copyright (and still will be for a while, this request does not pertain to songs in the public domain) often are submitted to and can be used via existing song licensing agencies which allow people (including song performers, DJs, event organizers) to license short-term usage (such as an event) or regular annual usage (eg, weekly basis available to a database of songs). Some examples of such agencies are Sacem, CCLI, LTC, etc.
The usual conditions of using such copyrighted songs under license is to pay the fee, and for songs where lyrics are displayed on a screen, the usual best practice is to add credits (usually in small font) at the bottom of the last slide of the song lyrics which include: author, composer, song publishing agency name, year of song publication, and the user number for the license authorization.

Translation aspects:
My question now extends to translating such songs into other languages.
Sometimes there are agencies in other countries which manage the translation of songs (including filtering and accepting proposals of translations) and also the song licensing aspects of the translated versions, similar to what is mentioned above for the source language original versions.

For songs where the target language agency does not hold a license for a specific source language song, what are rules for just a new translation? Does the song translator need to contact the source language publishing agency and arrange for the rights?
When the performer or event organizer then displays the lyrics of the new translated song (with or without contact or discussion with the source language publishing agency), I would assume that they are under the same obligations to give credit on last slide in mentioning it is a translation of the source language song.

As a song performer (vocalist/instruments), I deal a lot with the source language and target language licensing agencies for songs performed at events.

My wife has been asked to participate in backtranslation activities for songs which are under copyright. However, it is not clear that the organization that is asking her to participate (which creates new translations and alternative translations to existing copyrighted translations, and then also uses such translated songs at events they organize) is appropriately handling the copyright aspects of the translations.
From the events I've seen that they organize and give, there are never any source/target language credits given for any song on the slides they display, nor the user license number for translations that are already published by other agencies.

Does anyone have experience on this topic?




United Kingdom
Local time: 11:30
German to English
+ ...
Translation = derivative work Sep 20, 2012

**Please note: IANAL, and this response should not be construed as legal advice. If you want legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.**

As I understand it, there is musical copyright in the music and literary copyright in the lyrics. Translating the lyrics to a song constitutes producing a derivative work, with all the implications of producing a 'derivative work' in any other genre such as literature or screenplays.

See the example about the Gypsy Kings on this page:

In short, it appears you would need to obtain permission from the party holding copyright in the lyrics of the original to produce a translation for performance/publication. As to payment, acknowledgements, etc., I can't give you any advice. A lawyer specialising in media law would be able to.

There is a very good book on the legal and business aspects of the music world, which you might find interesting: Music - The Business by Ann Harrison (now in its 5th edition). Parts of it are available to read on Google Books:


United Kingdom
Local time: 11:30
German to English
+ ...
derivative indeed Sep 20, 2012

Heh, upon further investigation it looks like that site nicked the example from this page, which goes into more detail:


United States
Local time: 06:30
English to Spanish
+ ...
Translating song lyrics for pleasure, but hoping they reach an audience May 28, 2013

I translate songs as a hobby, but in the hope that someone also interested in communication across cultures will at some point be interested in performing them.

While I am not interested in financial gain, since I plan to make them available to performers on a website, I would appreciate my work to be duly acknowledged.

I'm therefore concerned about two issues:

1. Copyright infringement I might be committing by creating this derivative work.

2. Lack of acknowledgment of this work by performers.

Could a disclaimer be enough to take care of both issues, something like "While I am not profiting from this work, if you are, contact the copyright owners of the original work and request their permission to perform it, and please acknowledge my translation work by mentioning my name".

This may be too naive, but as you can see no money in the world would make me want to have to deal with the legal aspects of this task. I hear that you're even supposed to submit the copyrights holder a reverse translation for approval.

All this threatens to turn my hobby into a chore. Should I get a literary agent to take care of this? Is it unavoidable?

Thanks for your thoughts or comments.


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