Is a Translated Work an Intellectual Property or a Mere Commodity?

When you write a story, your work is supposed to be protected by copyright law. Copyright is a kind of intellectual property law that aims to protect original works. That includes literature, music, and other artistic works. But what about when you translate an existing story? Who owns the copyright of a Russian novel that was translated into English? How about a French poem that was translated into Italian?

The copyright of a translated work is actually a subject that has fascinated translators, legal experts, and artists for a long time. In this article, we will delve deeper into whether a translation is intellectual property or not.

Types of Translation in Which Copyrights Matter

As mentioned, copyright is a kind of intellectual property that aims to project ownership. Once the author has fixed the work in a tangible manner, the copyright is supposedly protected. Once a poet is finished writing a poem or a songwriter is done writing a song, the copyright of those works should be secured.

There are two points about copyright that should be raised and those are original works and fixed works.

Original works

Original work is a creation that has a minimum amount of creativity. There are some things however that cannot be considered creative. A process that was written down, for example, is not a creative one. One important thing to remember is that copyright is there to protect the expression and the product of that expression, it’s not meant to protect ideas.

Fixed work

Another important aspect of copyright is that the work has to be fixed. This means that work should be on a relatively permanent medium. A poem, for example, should be written on paper. A poem that was just recited by the poet without it being recorded cannot be copyrighted, since it is no longer accessible after its utterance. 

The creator is the copyright owner. In the case of the poem that was written on paper, the owner of the copyright is the poet. Copyright provides the owner with several exclusive rights, and those include:

  • The right to reproduce the work;
  • Create derivative works that are based on the work;
  • Distribute copies of the work.

There are other rights that are given by the copyright of work but these are the most crucial ones. For example, it gives others the right to exercise those rights that they have. An author can authorize the translation of his or her work, for example.

Who Does the Translation of Intellectual Property? From Translation Companies to Individual Translators.

In the case of translations, things can be tricky. A translation, of course, is the same work but in a different language. When H. G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine gets translated from the original English into Thai, for example, the story is the same. The translation aims to convey the same story in a different language. But the translation is also unique and creative which makes it qualified for copyright. 

But there is something that changes when a work is translated. While the story is the same, there are certain creative elements that are included. A translator must localize the work for readers to relate.

A translation can be done by an individual, like a freelance translator. It can also be done by a translation company, although in reality, the actual translation will be done by a vendor being paid by that translation company or an employee of the company.

Derivative Works

A derivative work is a work that’s based on or is derived from a work that already exists. An example of this is a translation since it is a derivative of the original work. 

A derivative work can be copyrighted. 

For a derivative work to be copyrighted, it must contain some or all of the original work and must have some new elements resulting from the creativity of the creator of the derivative work. This might indicate that a translation can be copyrighted but we will look more closely into these details.

Can Translated Work Be Copyrighted?

So, the question is, can translation be copyrighted? 

We have discussed that derivative works can be copyrighted but there are conditions. First of all, the work must contain the original and incorporate new creations. The second condition can be met by translation since the process of translation will actually involve some level of creativity, especially when it comes to literary translation.

The problem is with the first condition where it mentions that the derivative work must contain the entire original work. It can be argued that it contains it in a different language. Whether that meets the qualification that has been set will be determined. 

Also read:Guidelines for Avoiding Copyright Infringement

If you are an innovative and creative individual who has a lot of unique ideas, you can understand the importance of copyright laws an...

What Are the Rights of a Translator and IP Translation Services?

In other words, the question of the rights of a translator is more like a gray area. 

Because translations are considered derivative works, only the original author or the owner of the copyright can authorize the translation of a work. In the case of a translation company engaged in providing professional language services, the agreement between the copyright holder and the translation should state who will hold the copyright of the translation. 

In cases where the actual translator is an employee of the translation company, the translator may not have any right to the translation. In fact, the name of the translator does not have to appear on the translation.

Determining the copyright of a translation can be tricky, especially since each country has its own laws concerning intellectual property. The status of the translator will play a crucial role in determining who will have the copyright. An independent contractor must sign an agreement with the translation company to clear it up.

For example, Tomedes legal translation services has a team of expert translators with years of legal experience that can guide copyright holders through their translation and intellectual property rights.

Who will own the translation of a poem or novel? In most cases, the owner of the copyright of the original will be the one. There are a few things that can determine who will own the copyright. It will be better for everyone concerned if that can be defined ahead of time.

To clear things up, it might be best to have legal practitioners help you out. They can give you everything from an IP Assignment Agreement Template to understanding the legal intricacies involving intellectual property. Ironically, a translation company might be helpful when settling who will own the copyright of the translation with their services for legal translation. A service like that might be needed to determine who owns what and in the translation of intellectual property.

Do you need legal assistance?Find the right lawyer in your area.
Article by William Mamane

William Mamane is the Chief Marketing Officer of Tomedes, a translation company, and he has expertise in all types of international or digital marketing he has written about different topics, including legal translation.

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