Copyright and translated content: who is the creator?


“Although a translation can be considered a copy, it also contains an original work. So how do you measure the amount of creativity in a translated work? “

Copyright law protects artistic works. This includes literary pieces like novels, poems and other literary pieces. The original author is the one who owns the copyright to the piece. Translation raises an interesting copyright issue. Who will own the copyright in the translated work? Does it belong to the individual translator, the translation company or the author of the original work?

Is translation a creative process?

Because copyright laws protect original works, translations occupy a gray area. Many would see it as a creative process, like the translation of poetry and other literary pieces.

But then again, there are those who would argue that translation is not at all a creative process, or at least not on the same level as writing a novel. The main ideas of the work are already in place and it is enough to express it in another language.

More than just transferring words

But translation is more than just transferring words. The best way to prove this is to take a piece of translation and then try to translate it back into the original, using a word-for-word translation. Word-for-word translation means that you simply take a word and use its equivalent in the target language, without worrying about context and other translation factors.

So when you read a work that has been translated verbatim, it is very likely that it does not sound right. He would not be able to convey the messages conveyed by figures of speech.

Levels of creativity

All forms of translation involve a certain level of creativity. But different types of translations require different levels of creativity. For example, translating website content wouldn’t require the same level of creativity as translating. The Iliad from original ancient Greek to modern English.

A legal document is specialized text, and other technical documents will also fall into this category. Those who translate specialized texts must be very careful. They are required to stick more closely to the meaning of the original text.

A missed meaning can have serious consequences. A professional translator from a translation company will review the specialized text and make sure that he understands the text first and uses his specialized knowledge. But who ends up owning the copyright to this translated content? Is this different from the copyright of the original content? The internet has made things even more complicated. Online publishing is now considered the equivalent of publishing in a more traditional sense.

For the purposes of copyright protection, the most important aspect is creativity. A work must be original and not copied from someone else’s work. The work should also contain creativity, even if it is only a small amount.

Although a translation can be considered a copy, it also contains original work. So how do you measure the amount of creativity in a translated work?

This measure of creativity is known as the threshold of originality. Unfortunately, there is no fixed way to measure this. It is often determined on a case-by-case basis. When it comes to copyright in translated works, it is generally accepted that machine translations do not count. This is because machine translations are not personal intellectual creations.

Authorization of the author

A translation is what is called a derivative work. For a derivative work, only the copyright holder, who is usually the author, can authorize or not the distribution of a translation. A derivative work will be considered a copyright infringement if it has not been authorized by the copyright owner.

Thus, creative works such as biographies and bestselling novels cannot be translated and distributed without the permission of the author.

After translation

But what happens to the copyright of the original work after its translation?

If a translator is hired to do the translation, the copyright in the output will also be held by the copyright owner of the original. The translator’s name is not even required to appear on any part of the translated work. If the translator is not hired to do the translation, then the translator can be considered a co-author, but the copyright will still belong to the original author.

Sometimes a translation will be original enough to warrant its own copyright. The example we cited above, the translation of The Iliad, can qualify to have its own copyright. The original work is in the public domain and its translation into modern English will require a lot of creativity.

Thus, translations may be covered by copyright law. What determines whether a translation will be covered by copyright law is the translator’s original contribution to the work, which is not easy to assess. However, in the case of a translation company that is hired to translate documents and other written material, any copyright will be retained by the author.

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Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder of Tomedes, a leading translation company. As Tomedes deals with the translation of written works, he has acquired a unique knowledge of copyright and intellectual property.

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