Legal question: On translating & publishing media articles
Thread poster: AKarlin

Local time: 00:13
Russian to English
May 27, 2013

So here is my situation.

I have recently set up a website that translates articles from the Russian press into English. It is not a commercial site; while I do hope to secure funding for it so that I could draw myself a salary and expand the range and frequency of translations, its primary goal is to provide a social service - making internal Russian debates about politics and society accessible to Anglophones.

I was originally under the impression that translation into other languages generally doesn't require permission under "fair use" clauses. After all, it's just common sense. If a Russian paper writes an article and I translate it into English, it's not like it's going to be losing any customers or revenue; Russians will continue reading it in Russian, while if anything, an English translation would just serve to increase the paper's international/online profile. Everybody wins, right?

Well, unfortunately the world is rather legalistic. For instance, I took a look at Vedomosti's policies, and I found that they actually demand you get their explicit permission for any "usage" of the paper's materials (including translation!) from their parent company. In fact, now that I've run a quick check, most of the big papers have terms of use to this general effect.

Now of course there's caveats. Blogs and forums re-post newspaper articles in full all the time, and it's not like newspapers have the time, resources, or will to bring any of them to court for it. Particularly at this stage, when the project is just getting off the ground, seeking out permission for each piece I want to translate would be an incredibly time-consuming process. And what if they don't reply? Or delay for days on end? A new story that is translated one day later is still relevant. A week later? Fuggedaboutit. It's now ancient history.

On the other hand, the project isn't a blog or a forum; it has pretensions to being a media outlet in its own right, like Inosmi, Presseurop, or Worldcrunch. And I definitely don't want lack of permissions at this early stage to come back and bite me in the ass later on. What if, a year hence, a newspaper notices translations of its articles at my site, and instead of feeling honored, demands they all be taken down? It's a remote possibility, true, but presumably a real one nonetheless.

So basically what I'm asking is this: What is the optimal way to go about this entire permissions / copyrights / fair use rigmarole?

(1) Don't bother with permissions, at least for now; take down any material should the Russian publication notice and request it.

Advantages: Enables me to concentrate on the 1,001 other important things like recruiting volunteer translators and getting funding.
Disadvantages: Legally murky.

(2) Ask permission for each piece I translate from Russian publications.

Advantages: Legally clear.
Disadvantages: Time delays in publication; significant wastage of time and energy in general, which could be otherwise used to furthering the project.

(3) Something in between? For instance, seeking agreements with major Russian newspapers that give me the right to translate whatever I want from them.

Advantages: Legally clear, plus you only need to make one agreements, after that you can forget about it and translate at will.
Disadvantages: I don't know if this is how things work in the business, i.e. whether or not such agreements exist at all.

Thanks in advance for any clarifications on these legal matters.


Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:13
Italian to English
A few thoughts May 27, 2013

There is an Italian weekly news magazine called Internazionale (; every week they take articles from the world's major papers (The Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais, Financial Times, New York Times) and translate them into Italian. Some of the sections have a very "current" feel, while others are not so time-dependent.

Pick up a six-month old copy, and the articles are still interesting and relevant. Perhaps this could be a consideration - articles that talk about more "general" topics could still be interesting for your site, even if you do not get permission right away.

I guess that news articles remain the property of the journalist in question or the newspaper - after all it is their work and it is right that their efforts are recognised. But if you manage to set up a good relationship with different papers, it may take longer the first few times to get permission, less as your working relationship develops.

[Edited at 2013-05-27 21:41 GMT]


Paulo Eduardo - Pro Knowledge  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:13
Member (2008)
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Ask. May 27, 2013

Have you asked any of the newspapers for a permission/authorization?

No is the answer you already have. Maybe a surprise hits you.

So, simply Ask.


If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry.
If it's not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”

― Dalai Lama XIV



Rossana Triaca  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:13
Member (2002)
English to Spanish
Consult with a copyright lawyer... May 28, 2013

Copyright law varies wildly from country to country, and if your website will be hosted on a Russian server and you will use copyrighted material from Russian publications, the safest, more ethical and legally secure path would be to seek qualified legal advise from a local firm specialized in copyright law.

When I say the law varies wildly I'm not exaggerating; in some countries all derivative works, including translations, are seen as a contribution to the cultural wealth of the nation and are therefore unrestricted even for commercial usage. Moving down the spectrum from totally free to heavily regulated, you can find laws that allow derivative works as long as proper attribution is provided, or for non-commercial purposes, or if the author demonstrates that the modifications are such that the new work can be considered as non-derivative and original in its own right. And on the other hand, you have ludicrous copyright laws that secure royalties for centuries on end, long after the original content creators are gone and only corporations and twice-removed descendants remain, who can (and most certainly will, if you are successful) sue you to the high heavens for using that 3 line stanza their great granddaddy scribbled eons ago.

Consider carefully that "fair use" is a commonly misused term that means a lot of different things in different countries, and even means absolutely nothing in quite a few... Intent usually plays a big part in the equation too, so if your website will be a nonprofit organization (something you also need to clear up legally with the competent authorities), you can probably engage free consultation services at a local university or state-run agency (most countries have a network in place to regulate and assist NPOs with legal matters).

In short, better be safe than sorry, it's the right thing to do, and doing things properly doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg.


Steven Segaert
Local time: 02:13
Member (2012)
English to Dutch
+ ...
As a lawyer May 28, 2013

Go talk to these people. Search out if they have translated content already, and who would be the person who could one day decide to set up an English-spoken website for the paper.

Maybe they warm up to the idea of having a site with such content. And maybe you'll even get funding that way.

And if they say no, it's not worth the headache trying to do it regardless.


madak  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:13
Swedish to English
+ ...
Syndication May 28, 2013

I think you will find that many/most media producers have a syndication department or similar. Here's a link to the Guardian's sub-site dedicated to this activity:

(You might want to click on the 'Copyright' link in the left-hand nav.

This type of activity involves selling content to other media, whether for same language copy+paste or translation.

Some media also have more permanent agreements with other media. For example, the now defunct site, and their print equivalent, used to have an agreement with


LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:13
Russian to English
+ ...
It may depend on the country May 28, 2013

but in most countries you cannot just translate somebody's articles or books without their permission, if you want to publish them anywhere, even on the internet. You really should ask the paper, and get something in writing, or consult a Russian lawyer. Otherwise, you may get into serious trouble.


Amel Abdullah  Identity Verified
Arabic to English
+ ...
Ask first... May 28, 2013

Ask first. They may be willing to allow you to translate their material, but don't be surprised if they ask for monetary compensation in return. Try for a general agreement instead of attempting to gain permission for individual articles.

Another way to go about your project would be to summarize the articles in your own words and provide links back to the originals. This way you could highlight the important points for discussion without actually translating the articles themselves.


John Fossey  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:13
Member (2008)
French to English
Differing laws May 28, 2013

While it may differ somewhat from one country to another, the original author of a work generally has the sole right to authorize translation of thier writing. The translation is a "derivative work" and as such the author's copyright extends to it.

Once translated, the translator also has a copyright to the translation, and can have some control over what happens to it, such as prohibiting use until it's paid for. What happens next differs from one country to another - in some countries the translator can lose all right after payment, in other countries a copyright, even the translator's, is perpetual regardless of payment or contract.

"Fair use" also means different things in different countries, but generally limits how much of a copyrighted work can be used without the author's explicit permission, such as 10% or brief excerpts, etc. It never allows an entire work to be republished


Local time: 00:13
Russian to English
Thank you all for your responses May 28, 2013

Just to clear things up - No, the server is not based in Russia (it's in the US), and neither am I. So there's no "personal" risk.icon_wink.gif

That said, there is a clear consensus that permission has to be sought earlier rather than later.

Okay. To narrow down the question a bit:

(1) Are permissions typically sought for individual articles, or is it possible to get blanket permissions to translate anything from the paper?

The latter would be extremely preferable, as the whole point of the project is to do a range of translations.

(2) Would just an agreement with the newspaper be okay, or would I also need an agreement with the original author?

(3) If a newspaper does not permit me to translate their material, would I still be able to make agreements with their journalists individually?

Basically (2) and (3) somewhat relate to the question of how, precisely, copyright is split between a journalist and a newspaper. Is it an "or" or an "and" relationship?

Just to clarify, yes, I am seeking legal advice channels, but would nonetheless appreciate your opinions as professional translators.


Amel Abdullah  Identity Verified
Arabic to English
+ ...
Different factors to consider... May 29, 2013

I am a freelance writer who writes for both magazines and newspapers. Over the years, I have had people write to me seeking permission to translate my articles into various languages. Depending on the specifics of the project, I almost always say yes, but I do charge a fee when the work is to be used on a commercial website. In many cases, I have promised exclusivity to a particular publication for a certain period and may not be able to grant permission to have my work translated until that period (which typically ranges from one month to one year) has expired. If I have granted "all rights" to a publication (rare), I will not be able to allow the translation of my work unless I discuss it with the publication first.

Many publications have a permissions department that you can contact. I'd start there first. Just tell them what you want to do and see what their response is. If they already have a policy in place, you'll need to work within that framework. Otherwise, you have more leeway to negotiate and propose your own ideas. Some may tell you to approach the writers directly.

If you contact writers and journalists directly, you might ask them to sign a paper indicating they hold the rights and have granted you permission to translate their articles. Personally, I would not feel comfortable granting someone the sweeping right to translate all of my articles whenever they felt like it. I would want to know which articles were being translated and under what circumstances. I would, for example, want to investigate whether the website they were being published on had a particular agenda or bias. Just as I choose which publications to write for, I would also want to make sure that the translations of my articles were appearing on reputable sites that did not tarnish my reputation or make it seem as though I were affiliated with a particular group or organization. Also of concern would be whether the translations themselves were of good quality and expressed my ideas accurately - hard to assess when the language is one I do not speak or read.

Similarly, a publication may have its own concerns about allowing its entire contents to be published into another language, on a website that they have no editorial control over. From a financial perspective, it might make more sense for them to hire their own translators in order to develop an English-language section for their website. As a publisher, I doubt I'd want to lose that potential revenue stream and would thus be more likely to grant permission for individual articles only.

Like I said, though, the only way to get the ball rolling on this is to start asking. Everything else is pure speculation, and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by publishers who readily agree to your ideas.


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Legal question: On translating & publishing media articles

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