Translation copyright - who owns the translated document?
Thread poster: Amanda Grey

Amanda Grey  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:35
French to English
Nov 5, 2001

Is there an international law regarding copyright of translations (other than litterary translations)?

Who owns the translated document - the translator or the client?

I would be grateful for any info on this topic, specifically to France or at an international level.



Telesforo Fernandez
Local time: 16:05
English to Spanish
+ ...
it looks like this Nov 5, 2001

if you have done the translation( with due permission of the author) at your cost then the copyright is with you.You have copyrigth over the translation and not over the subject matter or idea or invention.

If you have done the translation for the writer or the publisher, then the copyright is not with you.

This is my fair opinion.


Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:35
Dutch to English
+ ...
Copyright rests with the translator until it has been paid for Nov 6, 2001


As far as I am aware the copyright on a translation (not literary) belongs to the translator until payment is received. Then it passes to the customer. I was advised a few years ago when confronted by a non-paying customer to contact his customer direct and make them aware that the copyright was mine until it had been paid for and that I was not granting permission for it to be used. Although I did not follow this advice I do think it was sound.

I hope this helps.

Your best option is to ask ITI or ATA or any of the other translator bodies.

Good luck!



Zenny Sadlon
Local time: 05:35
English to Czech
+ ...
Can you believe we don't know for sure . . . yet? Nov 7, 2001

Since the issue never came up, I\'ve always assumed that non-literary translation jobs are purchased as a commodity by the one commissioning the job. That is, once he pays, he owns it.

Let\'s face it, what would a translator want to do with a copyrighted X number of translated pages of gobbledygook? In addition, a lot of times the information contained in the job, regardless of the language it is encoded in, is proprietory iformation.

Nevertheless, I thought I should know and here\'s the first possible source of knowledge, although I didn\'t find it on or or

\"The right to translate and the right in the translation: Copyright Law questions relating to the translation of legal documents\' in: de Groot/Schulze (ed.), Recht und Übersetzen, Baden-Baden 1999\"

Has anybody found anything better? icon_smile.gif


Pernille Chapman  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:35
Member (2004)
English to Danish
+ ...
Make sure you're covered before the problem arises! Nov 7, 2001

I agree with Marijke - having had a similar problem with non-payment, I now include the following on my invoices:

\"Material supplied shall remain property of supplier until 1 week after receipt of payment\".

This obviously refers to commercial translations rather than literary.


Amanda Grey  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:35
French to English
More information Nov 7, 2001

My original question concerned a client of mine who asked me to translate training documents copyrighted to another company. He wanted to know if he could copyright the translation in his name. I am supposing he bought the original documents but does not necessarily have authorisation to translate.

As far as I can tell, the translation must mention the original copyright as per the Berne Convention:

\"Translations, adaptations, arrangements of music and other alterations of a literary or artistic work shall be protected as original works without prejudice to the copyright in the original work.\"

This refers to a literary or artistic work - does this cover corporate documentation(brochures, training materials, etc.)?

All the information I find just makes me more confused. A medal to whoever can clear this thorny issue up and state the facts in \"idiot-speak\" icon_smile.gif



Telesforo Fernandez
Local time: 16:05
English to Spanish
+ ...
Here is my opinion Nov 7, 2001

I can buy a medical book by paying the price or even a training manual by paying the price.

But I cannot have copyright over it just by translating it in some other language say Zulu or Jamaican.

To have a copyright over the translation one must have the permission of the original copyright holder ( which may be in any language)

In short your client cannot sell the training manual, say French, just because he has translated it in French. He has to have a permission to translate it and then he can have have a copyright over the French version of the translation -( no other person can translate it in French , except he or his assignees or legal reprsentatives tec). But, the name of the original author of the training manual must figure in the French version. You see, the contents or the concept or the training know- how belongs to the original author or the original publisher who has duly copyrighted it( and such a peron could be a Chinese or Australian)


Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:35
French to English
Meaning of "literary" work Nov 27, 2001

I suspect (but do not know) that \"literary\" work means any written work. How do you start defining what is a literary work otherwise? One with literary merit? Ditto \"artistic\". I think it has to be a face value interpretation...



Local time: 11:35
German to English
+ ...
Translation is commissioned work Feb 12, 2002

I have been trying to get a definitive answer on this for a long time. And now, with translation memories, it is becoming an even more interesting question: who owns the contents of the TM?

Sadly, I have had to accept that it is the person who commissions the work, not the translator. As a company, we have a clause that says that copyright remains with us until we have been paid in full, but I have been advised that this would not hold up in a court.

I was even more appalled to learn that under English copyright if you are a professor giving a lecture and have no written notes, but a student takes down your lecture while you talk, the student has the copyright! So it is not just the translators who lose out!

Isabelle Weiss, ALPHA CRC Ltd.


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