Questions on acquiring rights to distribute a book translation on behalf of a potential client
Thread poster: Bethany Bernardo

Bethany Bernardo  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:50
Japanese to English
Feb 10

I have a few questions about acquiring rights to distribute a book translation on behalf of a potential client.

As background, I was recently approached to translate a Japanese autobiography on a work-for-hire basis, but based on our communications so far, it is possible that he may not have the rights to distribute a translation of the book. I'm aware I can get in legal trouble if I provide a translation that is distributed without the publisher's/author's permission, so I've asked for a copy of this permission.

If he doesn't have the permission, I could potentially assist with acquiring it since I speak the source language, but I have not dealt with book translations or this kind of issue before. So my questions are the following:

1. Is it a good idea to offer to seek this permission on the client's behalf in this situation? (Are there any potential problems that might arise from doing this? Or at that point would one typically just try to acquire the rights personally and handle the entire project on one's own rather than doing work-for-hire?)

2. What is a typical fee to charge a client for performing this task? (I think it should cover whatever the copyright fees turn out to be, but what should I charge for my share of the work--especially if the publisher declines?)

3. Last, what are some resources to read up on best practices for seeking rights to translate and distribute a Japanese autobiography? (I generally know the overall process, but I want to know more of the fine details--things like how best to contact the publisher, what precisely should be in a letter to them, etc. I would greatly appreciate a reference to a detailed and reliable resource on that).

Thank you very much in advance for your advice.


[Edited at 2019-02-10 00:53 GMT]

[Edited at 2019-02-10 00:56 GMT]


 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
goods vs service vs IP Feb 10

Hello Bethany.

1) What makes you, as a language specialist, eligible to represent your prospect as a lawyer or solicitor?

2) define:serviceA service is any activity or benefit that one party can offer to another which is essentially intangible and does not result in the ownership of anything.Its production may or may not be tied to a physical product.

3) Why haven't your prospect cared about it? What's his role, by the way?
If you're new to this, then how could you offer something, let alone guarantee it?

While you can translate the book (with a disclaimer!) and your client may then try negotiating with the IP owner(s), instead of speculating and cooking a hare before catching it, just start with contacting them.

Cheers


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:50
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Don't do it Feb 10

Bethany Bernardo wrote:

..... Is it a good idea to offer to seek this permission on the client's behalf in this situation?



NO Bethany, it's a very bad idea and is not your job. I speak as a published author who has had quite a lot of experience with these matters. Getting a book published is a matter for the author and the publisher; not the translator. It requires an enormous amount of knowledge of the publishing world, internationally, and considerable skill in negotiating an agreement and putting in place the protections that will be necessary to safeguard the author's rights (internationally and over time).

This is absolutely not a job for an amateur. So I would be very suspicious as to why the Author seems to be trying to cajole you into taking on the task (and the risks, the costs, and the time)of finding a publisher and shepherding her/his book through the minefield of publishing.

My advice would be: stick to what you know and concentrate on translating, unless you seriously intend to embark on a new career as a literary agent. If you value your sanity: don't do this. The questions you ask show that you don't even know where to start !

[Edited at 2019-02-10 09:13 GMT]


Teresa Borges
Helen Shiner
 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 00:50
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
@Bethany Feb 10

If I understand you correctly your potential client is not the book’s author, what makes the whole situation even more questionable and unclear.

Tom in London
Jennifer Forbes
 

Bethany Bernardo  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:50
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Feb 11

Thank you very much, everyone, for your advice!

It has become clear that this is definitely not a task for someone inexperienced in publication rights, as I am.

At this point, the potential client and I have just begun speaking about the project, and I am not completely sure where he stands yet. I want to be as informed as possible going into the discussion, and seeking rights on a client's behalf was something I could not find much information on--as I now gather, there is a very good reason for that.

Therefore, if it does turn out he cannot provide proof of the necessary rights to distribute my translation, I will decline the project.

Thank you again for the advice and for helping me avoid a painful situation.


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:50
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Still do Feb 11

Of course you could still do the translation, for payment in the usual way.

After you've been paid, what happens to the translation need not bother you.


 

Eliza Hall
United States
Local time: 19:50
Member (2018)
French to English
+ ...
Learn about copyright or consult with a lawyer Feb 11

Bethany Bernardo wrote:
I was recently approached to translate a Japanese autobiography on a work-for-hire basis, but based on our communications so far, it is possible that he may not have the rights to distribute a translation of the book. I'm aware I can get in legal trouble if I provide a translation that is distributed without the publisher's/author's permission, so I've asked for a copy of this permission.


The permission is called a "license" (copyright license -- google that term for more info). The only person who can commission a translation is the copyright holder of the original book, or a party whom the copyright holder has licensed -- and if it's a licensee (person holding a license), the license needs to include the right to write or commission adaptations and translations. Not all licenses include all rights. If you get a copy of the license, you need to run it past a copyright lawyer to see what it allows the licensee to do.

And by the way, "work for hire" means that you do not own the copyright in your translation. That's completely normal for business translations, but very negotiable for literary translations. You should not just automatically be prepared to give your rights in your translation away. There is no reason you couldn't keep your copyright and just grant a license to the client to distribute your translation. But again -- consult a copyright lawyer in your jurisdiction for more.

Bethany Bernardo wrote:
Is it a good idea to offer to seek this permission on the client's behalf in this situation?


First off, do you have any experience with seeking copyright licenses? I'm guessing no? Then no, it's a bad idea.

And secondly, even if you were experienced in that area, why on earth should you do that for this random third party? Why not just seek a license for yourself to do a translation? What is the third party bringing to the table that is worth your doing this work on their behalf?

Bethany Bernardo wrote: What is a typical fee to charge a client for performing this task? (I think it should cover whatever the copyright fees turn out to be, but what should I charge for my share of the work--especially if the publisher declines?)


"Copyright fees"? What is that? I'm a copyright lawyer and I don't know what you're talking about. If a client wants you to translate a book, the client needs to have the right to make or commission a translation of that book -- which means they need to make a deal with the author, and pay the author for those rights. You should absolutely not be paying for a copyright license out of your own pocket, unless you personally want to do this translation, keep your copyright in the translation, and shop it around to publishers.


 

Helen Shiner  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:50
Member (2008)
German to English
+ ...
@ Bethany Feb 11

I'm presume from where you are based that you would be working within the US legal system. Just for the sake of the thread in general, and anyone who might stumble upon it later, it is worth noting that different jurisdictions are subject to different takes on copyright and translations.

In the UK, for instance, I found the British Society of Authors, of which I am a member, enormously helpful in this respect. They provide legal advice as part of the membership fee and will check publishing contracts for members for free. They also provide a great deal of written guidance. Their advice proved invaluable to me. Perhaps there is a US equivalent.


 


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