Is it mandatory for a publisher to write the name of the translator in a book or a newspaper article?
This is the question I posted on the Proz forum last October, after I had had a bad experience with a German publisher…First of all, I wish to thank all the colleagues for their contributions, which have helped me to draw a map of the situation, at least for some countries.
I have found out that in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Turkey and the UK the name of the translator is always printed in the translated book. If the translation is commissioned through a translation agency, both the name of the agency and that of the translator are present. A colleague reported that his name as a proofreader of a translated book was also quoted.
In many countries there is a ‘standard contract’ for translations destined to publication, agreed upon by publishers and authors/translators associations. Unfortunately, this standard contract is often made available only to members of these associations, or upon payment (see for example: www.societyofauthors.net/soa/page_id.php4?pid=126&sid=14&urlsection=Subsidiary+Groups). The contract states, among others, that the publisher is obliged to print the translator's name (usually in the first pages) without any need for the translator to ask for it. However, the praxis may contradict the rule, as the publisher often fails to comply with this elementary but very important right of the translator, surely because in many countries there is an additional clause establishing that the translator is entitled to receive a percentage on the sold copies of the book.
In Germany, as an other colleague reported, there is a provision stating that the remuneration a translator receive for translating a book must be adequate to the earnings the publisher makes selling the translated book. So, if you had received just pocket money to translate the work of an unknown author who then has become a bestseller, you have the right to ask for an additional compensation (think of the happy translators of “Harry Potter” and the like).
All these ‘additional payments’ should in part make up for the difference existing between the rates for normal translations and those for ‘literature’ translations, a very common but somehow wrong expression defining the translation of works destined to publication (but a published book could also deals with a scientific subject, not only with literature). As far as rates are concerned, there are big differences in the various countries. According to an article recently appeared in the Italian newspaper “La Stampa”, an Italian ‘literature’ translator earns half of his German counterpart. Ironically, a more and more increasing number of all published books in Italy are translations, especially in the sector of fiction.
It is for these and many other reasons that the question of writing the name of the translator in a published book remains essential. To name the translator is a form of remuneration and acknowledgment. The translator lends his voice to an author, allowing him to reach an audience who speaks a different language. The translator is himself the “author” of the translated book and indeed he keeps certain rights on his translation (this point is too wide to be discussed here). Also a translated article appearing in a newspaper should quote the name of the translator, but again this is not always the case.
What can be done to protect the right of the translator to have his name printed in the translated book? Many associations are already active in this field. Nevertheless, it seems that it is not entirely possible to prevent the “black sheep” publishers to ignore the existing rule and it is often up to the translator himself to refuse to work with people not willing to grant him one of his basic rights. Unfortunately, for one translator who rejects a commission under those circumstances (as it was my case) there is always another ready to accept it, without asking himself how much damage he causes to the whole category, that means in the long term also to himself …
Maybe a drastic rule should be introduced: every translated book not presenting the name of the translator cannot be distributed and sold. In this way every publisher would respect its obligation and the translator would see this essential right finally recognized.