Thoughts on copyrighting book-length translation
Konuyu gönderen: Jeff Clingenpeel

Jeff Clingenpeel  Identity Verified
Amerika Birleşik Devletleri
Local time: 14:43
Almanca > İngilizce
Jul 14

Hello all, I've recently translated a novel (German to English), encouraged by initial interest that a US publisher showed in some sample chapters and by the support I've received from the German publisher. If the US publisher ultimately decides to decline, what would be a reasonable next step, now that the translation is complete? Copyrighting the translation in my name? Does anyone have any experience with this they'd be willing to share? Thanks for any input you might have!

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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosna - Hersek
Local time: 20:43
İngilizce > Hırvatça
+ ...
Not sure Jul 14

I guess you can claim the copyright on the translation, but the concepts in the book are not yours, unless the copyrights were specifically allocated to you. Can you contact the original author directly? Not sure you can publish or sell your translation independently, without sorting the original copyrights first. I guess the best step would be to contact the original German author, however, if they designed the concepts, my guess is they will want to keep the ownership.

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philgoddard
Amerika Birleşik Devletleri
Üye (2009)
Almanca > İngilizce
+ ...
You already own Jul 14

the copyright to the translation.

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Thayenga  Identity Verified
Almanya
Local time: 20:43
Üye (2009)
İngilizce > Almanca
+ ...
You own your work Jul 15

As Phil stated, you already own the (slightly unsafe) copyright.

If you want to be sure, then just register it with the Library of Congress, Washington, D. C.. This way your copyright, in your name, is protected for life +75 years. Just get the form, fill it in and submit it along with a copy of your translated book/manuscript and then be patient. Nowadays you might even be able to do it online. https://www.copyright.gov/registration/

[Edited at 2017-07-15 14:16 GMT]


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MK2010  Identity Verified
Amerika Birleşik Devletleri
Local time: 12:43
Üye (Jun 2017)
Fransızca > İngilizce
+ ...
You need a contract Jul 15

Translations are done with permission from the author / publisher, via a contract that spells out terms such as copyright, royalties, and so on. Sometimes literary translation work is considered "work for hire" and doesn't provide any copyright to the translator. These are the kinds of things to be negotiated.

Anyone can translate a book or a play just for the fun of it, but it in no way means they actually have the right to do anything with it. Unless it's in the public domain, you need permission from the rights holders. It sounds as if the German publisher is on board, so why not make it official, and get a contract from them? This way, if you shop it around to more U.S. publishers, you'll be pitching something you actually have the right to pitch. A publisher will want to make sure everything is legit anyway, before acquiring a work in translation.



[Edited at 2017-07-15 14:32 GMT]

[Edited at 2017-07-15 18:57 GMT]


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Jeff Clingenpeel  Identity Verified
Amerika Birleşik Devletleri
Local time: 14:43
Almanca > İngilizce
KONUYU BAŞLATAN
Thanks for your input Jul 16

For what it's worth: as I've pitched the translation to various US publishers, I've been keeping the German publisher in the loop, and they've been supplying information to the US publishers from their end as well (information on available funding, etc.). Through all of this my impression has been that any contract will have to come from the target language publisher rather than from the source language publisher, but maybe it varies from publisher to publisher, I don't know. The German publisher has not offered any contract at any rate, despite otherwise seeming on board with the project.

Unfortunately, my contact at the German publisher has taken a new job elsewhere, and the US publisher has not acknowledged any correspondence from me (including the manuscript submission) since initially expressing interest and asking me for the entire manuscript. So I'm feeling a bit cut off right now, and basically wondering how to hedge my bets, so that all of this work won't have been for nothing. I will check with Library of Congress and see what requirements there are for copyrighting translated work. That sounds like a good place to start.

I appreciate all the input!!


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Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
Amerika Birleşik Devletleri
Local time: 14:43
Üye (2002)
İngilizce > Macarca
+ ...
Who owns the copyright of the original? Jul 17

Translation is a derivative work, so you need to have permission from the original copyright holder to create that derivative work. That is usually the original author, or their publisher. From what you wrote so far, it is not clear to me whether you actually acquired that permission. You should have it in writing, in a valid legal document, and it usually doesn't come for free.

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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Almanya
Local time: 20:43
Almanca > İngilizce
More details? Jul 17

Did the novel sell particularly well or was it particularly critically acclaimed in Germany? Was it published by a large or renowned German publishing house? Those are central questions if you are trying to develop selling points for prospective US publishers.

Is the novel two years old or twenty?

Trying to be as objective as you can: Do you think it would make sense for a US publisher to invest in the rights and printing and promoting of this book? Why?

And how did the project get started? It sounds like you thought "Oh, that ought to be available in English," started translating and then approached the German publisher (who presumably holds the translation rights) and some American publishers - is that more or less what happened?

It seems very strange that a publisher would encourage you to translate a complete novel without any kind of definitive plans about publishing it (and even stranger that you would act on that encouragement). Are you sure there wasn't a misunderstanding or that we're missing important information here? Was the potential US publisher a reputable publishing house? A big publishing house or a well-respected smaller publishing house? How did you select them as particularly likely to be intereseted?

You could hire an agent to help you develop and send out a pitch for the book if you are willing to invest more money in the project. If you are absolutely unable to get a publishing house interested, self-publication might be an option if (and that is a giant "if") you could somehow manage to convince the German publisher and author to go that way and grant the right to publish the translation directly to you.

US copyright law is a little strange, but even there you don't have to do anything in order to have your work become protected: Officially registering for copyright in the US has some kind of advantage, but I don't remember what it is, you'd have to look it up. Essentially, though, it would probably be a waste of time (and presumably money) at this point, because your work is automatically protected anyway.


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Jeff Clingenpeel  Identity Verified
Amerika Birleşik Devletleri
Local time: 14:43
Almanca > İngilizce
KONUYU BAŞLATAN
answers to Michael's questions Jul 17

Michael Wetzel wrote:

Did the novel sell particularly well or was it particularly critically acclaimed in Germany? Was it published by a large or renowned German publishing house? Those are central questions if you are trying to develop selling points for prospective US publishers. Is the novel two years old or twenty?


The novel was just published in 2016 to critical acclaim. My submission also included (at the request of the US publisher) a positive review translated from one of Germany's most respected papers (Die Zeit). The book was published in Germany by a well-known publishing house (Carl-Hanser Verlag)

And how did the project get started? It sounds like you thought "Oh, that ought to be available in English," started translating and then approached the German publisher (who presumably holds the translation rights) and some American publishers - is that more or less what happened?


The title was recommended on the "New Books in German" (Goethe-Institut) website as having potential for translation, I assume in part for its timely subject matter. It is the author's debut novel. I deliberately chose a new author so that there wouldn't already be a relationship developed with another English translator. I approached the German publisher before doing anything else to determine whether the rights were available. My contact there was eager to help and seemed very happy that a translator was interested in the project.

Was the potential US publisher a reputable publishing house? A big publishing house or a well-respected smaller publishing house? How did you select them as particularly likely to be interested?


The US publishers I've sent samples to were selected based on their interest in literary translation and/or in the subject matter of this particular project. (In some cases they were recommended to me by the head of the German collection at a local university, who is familiar with the US publishing landscape.) The publisher that responded positively and requested the rest of the book fit both categories (publishes translations and features books that fit the subject matter of this project).

As you and others have pointed out, I've maybe made too many assumptions and accepted the support from the German publisher as tacit approval/permission for the project without getting that in writing.

Thanks again for the input.


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MK2010  Identity Verified
Amerika Birleşik Devletleri
Local time: 12:43
Üye (Jun 2017)
Fransızca > İngilizce
+ ...
Check for grants Jul 17

Maybe ask the Goethe. I used to work for the French Embassy and there are lots of translation grants out there, both for translators and U.S. publishers of French books in English. It's a way for foreign countries to encourage the publication of translated material in the U.S., which is very low.

Re. the contract, yes, typically the U.S. publisher would hire the translator, after BUYING the English language / U.S. territory rights from the author or original publisher. So of course the German publisher is telling you it's OK, because you're doing their work for them. They make money if you find a U.S. publisher, and they don't have to pay you anything for the translation.

Either way, you need official permission for the translation, otherwise it means zilch. Does the author know about this? Will he/she want to approve a translation before giving the green light?

You've done a lot of work on this and I strongly advise making it all official before you continue, so it won't all be for nothing. You need permission from whoever holds the rights --right now, it's the German publisher or author (depending on their agreement), but if a U.S. publisher buys the book, then that publisher will own the rights and would be under no obligation to use YOUR translation. Of course, in this case, they very likely would, but not always. There are instances in which a European publisher has a book translated into English for, say, the digital market, and then a U.S. publisher buys the rights for the U.S. market and hires a different translator. Sucks for the original translator!

Jeff Clingenpeel wrote:

Michael Wetzel wrote:

Did the novel sell particularly well or was it particularly critically acclaimed in Germany? Was it published by a large or renowned German publishing house? Those are central questions if you are trying to develop selling points for prospective US publishers. Is the novel two years old or twenty?


The novel was just published in 2016 to critical acclaim. My submission also included (at the request of the US publisher) a positive review translated from one of Germany's most respected papers (Die Zeit). The book was published in Germany by a well-known publishing house (Carl-Hanser Verlag)

And how did the project get started? It sounds like you thought "Oh, that ought to be available in English," started translating and then approached the German publisher (who presumably holds the translation rights) and some American publishers - is that more or less what happened?


The title was recommended on the "New Books in German" (Goethe-Institut) website as having potential for translation, I assume in part for its timely subject matter. It is the author's debut novel. I deliberately chose a new author so that there wouldn't already be a relationship developed with another English translator. I approached the German publisher before doing anything else to determine whether the rights were available. My contact there was eager to help and seemed very happy that a translator was interested in the project.

Was the potential US publisher a reputable publishing house? A big publishing house or a well-respected smaller publishing house? How did you select them as particularly likely to be interested?


The US publishers I've sent samples to were selected based on their interest in literary translation and/or in the subject matter of this particular project. (In some cases they were recommended to me by the head of the German collection at a local university, who is familiar with the US publishing landscape.) The publisher that responded positively and requested the rest of the book fit both categories (publishes translations and features books that fit the subject matter of this project).

As you and others have pointed out, I've maybe made too many assumptions and accepted the support from the German publisher as tacit approval/permission for the project without getting that in writing.

Thanks again for the input.


[Edited at 2017-07-17 15:26 GMT]


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