Contract for book translation: copyright conundrum
Thread poster: Libero_Lang_Lab

Libero_Lang_Lab  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:24
Member (2006)
Russian to English
+ ...
Jul 19, 2006


I know copyright issues have been dealt with at various times on these boards, and I have read most of the past discussions. Apologies in advance if any of what I write here covers old ground, but I don't think all of it does.

I am set to begin work on a book translation. The fee per 1000 words is better than average, however the proposed contract as it stands requires yielding all copyright to the publisher. I don't think that royalties would produce anything of great substance for me. I do, however, feel reluctant to cede all rights, given I will have an especially strong editorial impact on the final translated version.

My main question to others who have perhaps been in a similar boat, or who have general experience of book translation is this: under what circumstances, if ever, would you agree to unconditionally hand over copyright on your translation to the publisher?


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:24
English to Spanish
+ ...
You're OK Jul 19, 2006

I don't see where you have any copyright on someone else's work, and if they pay you well enough for your translation, then you've been well paid.

If they put your name on it, all the better.


Maria-Jose Pastor
Local time: 14:24
English to Spanish
+ ...
consult an attorney Jul 20, 2006

First and foremost I would assure myself that the editor who has hired you has the "right" to do so ie, who currently owns the copyright, - further I would consult with an attorney who specializes in copyright law as to where your rights begin and end, if in fact you have any over the translated piece's copyright.


Pablo Grosschmid  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:24
English to Spanish
+ ...
the only formula Jul 20, 2006

Publisher pays an amount X to the translator for the right to publish his version in Y number of copies during a time period Z.
Contract ends then, unless renewed.
Negotiation variables: X, Y, Z.


Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:24
Italian to English
Advice on contracts Jul 20, 2006

The Society of Authors/Translators Association has a number of useful publications on this topic (there is a small charge to non-members for each guide):

and will also vet contracts for members.

It would be lovely if Pablo's formula were universally adhered to but there are of course various legal work-arounds that publishers in different countries use to avoid paying royalties to translators. If the publisher is reluctant, you may have to make a commercial decision about this (if you stick out for royalties, will the publisher look for a more compliant translator or do you have unique/outstanding qualifications for the job?).

In practical terms, Henry's advice is good: make sure you're getting decently paid for the translation and editing work involved, whatever kind of contract you agree to sign in the end.

Maria-Jose's proposal is also useful. The project will probably commit you for quite a while so investing in a hour or two of a lawyer's time could be worthwhile. Just make sure you ask the right questions to the right lawyer!

Good luck with the book,



Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:24
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Copyright versus moral rights Jul 20, 2006

Daniel Brennan wrote:
...however the proposed contract as it stands requires yielding all copyright to the publisher.

Does the publisher include moral rights (including the moral right to the identified as the translator) into his definition of "copyright"?

It is quite possible for you to cede all copyright but retain the moral right to be identified as the author of the translation. This may differ from country to country, thought. Check it out.

[Edited at 2006-07-20 12:29]


Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:24
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
The translator does have copyright, Henry Jul 20, 2006

Henry Hinds wrote:
I don't see where you have any copyright on someone else's work...

In ZA (and in many other countries), by default, the freelance translator has copyright of his translation, even if he doesn't have copyright of the source text. In fact, the freelance translator has copyright of his translation even if he doesn't have permission from the copyright holder of the source text to do the translation (what he doesn't have, is a licence to reproduce and/or sell his tranlation).


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Contract for book translation: copyright conundrum

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