The Rights and Wrongs of Translation

Authors contact us at Lantern Books frequently because a devotee in another country has either offered to translate their book or has already done so and is looking for a publisher. What should we do? the authors ask. Consider this post our response to that question—and if it should happen to you.

Among our tasks as publishers is to protect the copyright of our authors. That means no unauthorized reproduction or use of an author’s work without our permission or paying fees to us and the author—who after all put time, effort, and money into the book in the first place. That, of course, applies to translation. The best way to secure copyright protection is for one publisher to contract with another to translate, publish, and distribute the book in that country, and for that publisher to have exclusive rights to do those things. Without that surety, an author cannot guarantee that he or she will receive royalties, that the translation will be accurate, and that the book itself will be produced and distributed professionally.

So, if you’re an author, and a kindly Croatian claims kinship or a friendly Finn fans you on Facebook and wants your book to be available in their language, do the following:

  1. Thank your fan very much, and ask them to find a publisher in their country who’s willing to publish the book.
  2. Ask them to tell the publisher to contact your publisher.
  3. Indicate to the kindly Croatian or friendly Finn that the publisher may not choose them to be the translator.
  4. Discourage the devotee from photocopying their translation and disseminating it. That’s theft, and you’ve no idea of whether they’ve a minimum grasp of your language.

Of course, the devotee may find it hard to find that publisher, which is why Lantern has its own rights manager trying to do it for the authors and us. But, as slow and frustrating as the process is, it offers some chance that one’s work won’t be pirated.

About martinrowe

I am the executive director of the Culture & Animals Foundation, the co-founder of Lantern Publishing & Media, and the author, editor, and ghostwriter of several works of fiction and non-fiction. I live in Brooklyn, New York.
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