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Old 09-12-2010, 06:07 AM   #1
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Translations - a grey zone?

As you are all aware we are a fairly complex concoction of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. In my case, outside my native Swedish and Danish, I happen to possess a PhD in Japanese literature. Hence, I have done a lot of partial translations for research purposes. A few chapters here and there, mostly of 19th century literature. I find the process intellectually challenging and therapeutically soothing. Hence, during the coming winter months I could see myself committing more time to tasks like that.

Since I don't need to do it for research purposes, nor personal gratification, the goal would be to make it into E-books for everybody's enjoyment. An opportunity to savor something that usually isn't offered by major publishers. However, since this isn't done for research, but actual publication, albeit non-profit, would it still require some sort of permission? I know that the books are still published in Japan, but they seem to be published by several publishers, hence I doubt that any single entity holds the copyright.

Has there been similar projects here before? Are there perhaps some threads that deals with issues like these?
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Old 09-12-2010, 06:25 AM   #2
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I'm afraid there's nothing grey about it at all. A translation of a copyrighted work absolutely does need the permission of the original copyright holder. Please don't even think about publishing a translation without the copyright holder's permission!
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Old 09-12-2010, 06:58 AM   #3
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I know that the books are still published in Japan, but they seem to be published by several publishers, hence I doubt that any single entity holds the copyright.
It's really a question of whether the books are still in copyright at all. If they are not in copyright, you are free to make and sell translations. If they are still in copyright, you'll need to copyright holder's permission to sell (or give away or otherwise publish/distribute) a translation.
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Old 09-12-2010, 07:00 AM   #4
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In my case, outside my native Swedish and Danish, I happen to possess a PhD in Japanese literature. Hence, I have done a lot of partial translations for research purposes.
Man, I wish you'd tackle the works of Kunio Yanagita, most of which have never been translated into English. For years I've been making minor feints in the direction of learning Japanese, but I simply lack the discipline.
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Old 09-12-2010, 07:12 AM   #5
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Man, I wish you'd tackle the works of Kunio Yanagita, most of which have never been translated into English. For years I've been making minor feints in the direction of learning Japanese, but I simply lack the discipline.
I did my PhD thesis on Shimazaki Tôson, so I'm actually quite familiar with Yanagita. He did some pioneering work in collecting old Japanese tales. Have you read "Tales of Old Japan" a collection by A. B. Miford?

Is there some clearing house for copyrighted material, where I can find out if it is still in copyright? The originals are more than a 100 years old, but obviously copyrights can be renewed.
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Old 09-12-2010, 07:16 AM   #6
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Sweden, as a member of the EU, has a "life + 70" copyright law, therefore any work whose author died in 1939 or earlier is currently in the public domain. The EU has no concept of copyright renewal - it is purely a question of the date that the author died.
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Old 09-12-2010, 07:26 AM   #7
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Sweden, as a member of the EU, has a "life + 70" copyright law, therefore any work whose author died in 1939 or earlier is currently in the public domain. The EU has no concept of copyright renewal - it is purely a question of the date that the author died.
Would that apply to a translation of a Japanese author who died in 39 or before?
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Old 09-12-2010, 07:27 AM   #8
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Would that apply to a translation of a Japanese author who died in 39 or before?
Yes. All that matters is what's in the public domain where you are.
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Old 09-12-2010, 08:19 AM   #9
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Yes. All that matters is what's in the public domain where you are.
Thank you for that!

Not to overextend here, but I could interpret that as an invitation to make translations in some place that hasn't signed International Copyright Treaties. Botswana, Vanuatu, Tonga, or maybe San Marino?
Once uploaded, who would know?

PS. Not that I'm condoning it.
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Old 09-12-2010, 08:22 AM   #10
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One more thing to note: your translation will itself be in copyright (to you) until 70 years after your death. A translation has a copyright that is entirely independent of that of the original work, so if you want people to download it, I'd suggest releasing it under some form of Creative Commons licence.
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Old 09-12-2010, 09:32 AM   #11
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I did my PhD thesis on Shimazaki Tôson, so I'm actually quite familiar with Yanagita. He did some pioneering work in collecting old Japanese tales. Have you read "Tales of Old Japan" a collection by A. B. Miford?
Yes, I've read that one, and some by Lafcadio Hearn, and some by Perceval Lowell (yes, that Perceval Lowell.)

I also have the recent 100th Anniversary edition of Tono Monogatari/Legends of Tono and Japanese Folk Tales translated by Fanny Hagin Mayer, both of course by Yanagita. But all of his other writing is either not translated to English or out of print and prohibitively expensive. (I'm interested mainly in folklore dealing with yokai and other supernatural subjects.)
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Old 09-12-2010, 09:44 AM   #12
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Yes. All that matters is what's in the public domain where you are.
Wait a minute... what about the Geneva Convention?

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Published works of nationals of any Contracting State and works first published in that State shall enjoy in each other Contracting State the same protection as that other State accords to works of its nationals first published in its own territory.

Article 1.2
I have always taken that to mean that other countries are bound to uphold the rules of the country where the work was initially published, at a minimum. Meaning that (assuming that Sweden and Japan signed this convention), you would first need to check if it's in the public domain in Japan.

Last edited by FlorenceArt; 09-12-2010 at 09:53 AM.
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Old 09-12-2010, 09:52 AM   #13
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I just knew it was more complicated than I assumed.

Ahh, the bliss of the ivory tower.
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Old 09-12-2010, 09:54 AM   #14
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Well, I may be wrong... but you're sure right about it being complicated!
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Old 09-12-2010, 09:57 AM   #15
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On the other hand, I doubt that Japan has a rule longer than life +70, which is the most common in Europe...
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