The Copyright Rustling Petition: What’s Your Excuse?

In the four weeks since No Peanuts! launched its campaign to raise awareness about the alarming number of translators who lose their copyrights to English-language translation publishers, those who refuse to sign the Copyright Rustling petition or support the campaign have offered all kinds of reasons for their (in)action.

Reasonable people may disagree, etc., but there has only ever been one fundamental issue for No Peanuts!: Is it fair for publishers to take translators’ copyrights, often insisting upon copyright-transfer as a mandatory condition in contract negotiations?

To put it more bluntly: Whose side are you on? Are you with translators who need to protect their copyrights or are you with publishers who wield disproportionate power and unfair advantage in contract negotiations?

If you think translators’ rights deserve protection, then sign the petition. (And/or take some of the other actions No Peanuts! has suggested.)

If you think the rustling of translators’ copyright is no big deal (because, in the end, we’re all “free” to operate “freely” in a “free market”), then nothing No Peanuts! can say is likely to change your mind. (Though we might recommend you spend some time reading Robert Reich.)

Whatever people choose to do, No Peanuts! wishes we could at least turn the volume down on the nonsense.

To critics of the Copyright Rustling campaign, here’s the bottom line: Don’t sign the petition. Don’t support the campaign. But be honest enough to say that you’ve made that choice because you’re not on translators’ side in this issue. And please stop changing the subject to make it about your “reasons”:

1) I can’t sign the petition because it’s “anonymous.”

While many petitions on Change.org are or have been sponsored by individuals, literally hundreds are not. They are, instead, hosted by movements or organizations. Here are just a few of them:

Anaheim Fix Project; Center for Community Change Action; DAV (Disabled American Veterans); Factory Farm Awareness Coalition; Gainesville On Guard; Georgia Animal Rights and Protection; Ivory Free Colorado; Kill the K-Cup; Mercy for Animals; NAACP Florida; Optimization Consulting; Our Duty; Partnership for an Equitable Los Angeles at USC Sol Price School of Public Policy; Rutgers Graduate Organizing Committee; Students UNITE; SumOfUs; Supporters of Jason Rezaian and a Free Press; Tahirih Justice Center; The Fight For Veterans; The Humane League; The Road We’ve Shared; Together Queensland; Transgender Human Rights Institute; Turtle Island Restoration Network; Tuxedo STEM Academy at George F. Baker High School; Workers United Canada Council; Writers and Readers. 

No one snarks about how such petitions are “anonymous” or uses that as an excuse not to sign. Rather, signers recognize these petitions as having been sponsored by organizations, coalitions, action groups, or voluntary associations.

No Peanuts! is one such organization – we’ve existed since 2010 – and, as such, No Peanuts! has sponsored a petition. What, really, is the problem?

2) The petition is “divisive.”

If the argument is that the goal of this campaign is to divide virtuous publishers from those who take translators’ copyrights or coerce them into signing unfair contracts, then yes: the petition is divisive.

In every other meaningful sense of the word, it is not. Rather, the campaign is an effort to raise awareness about a blatant wrong and to bring translators, agencies, publishers, and others together to oppose that wrong.

Only pure cynicism (or a serious conflict of interest) could characterize that effort as “divisive.”

3) The Copyright Rustling campaign will alienate publishers and hurt translators.

Publishers who demand translators’ copyrights deserve to be alienated. First and foremost, they deserve to be alienated from the talented people who provide them with intellectual labor.

The fact is, those publishers are doing something wrong.

If they are “alienated” by being told they’re doing something wrong, then there is an easy fix. They can take this campaign as an opportunity to earn both good publicity and good karma by joining their many principled colleagues who don’t usurp translators’ copyrights. They can choose to change their backward, damaging policies. It’s that simple.

Or does someone actually intend to argue that now those publishers will never stop rustling translators’ copyrights because No Peanuts! has hurt their feelings?

And giving translators greater contractual power by removing the issue of copyright from the bargaining table … that hurts translators? No Peanuts! can’t even….

4) The Copyright Rustling petition is “fishy” because the names of the people who signed it aren’t public.

First of all, really? That’s your excuse?

Second of all, the fact that signatories are not visible to the public is a policy of Change.org (evidently related to complaints about Google searchers being able to turn up people’s names on petitions). Perhaps No Peanuts! should have chosen a different petition host, assuming there are any left that show signatures publicly. Hindsight is 20/20.

Meanwhile, No Peanuts! can see all the signatures. Further, as the petition states clearly, the names of the signers will go along with the petition when it is delivered – excluding those few who have said they don’t want their signature to be made known (so far, a total of five people).

5) The Copyright Rustling report is a “revenge project.”

A well-known translation blogger—and a person who could reasonably be expected to know better—actually made this accusation recently.

For the sake of argument, though, let’s assume the claim is true. Let’s assume that the author of Copyright “Rustling” in English-Language Translation: How Translators Keep (and Lose) Rights to Their Work—Data from Translations Published in 2014; http://tinyurl.com/lzpz2cm) is just someone with a grudge.

That doesn’t make the facts and figures in the Report wrong!

Nor does it make it right to usurp translators’ copyrights or force them to sign contracts in which they must hand over copyright—or lose the opportunity to publish a translation.

Most people learn, as early as their freshman college comp course, that the ad hominem attack is a logical fallacy that has no place in argumentation among intelligent people.

Some of the critics of the Copyright Rustling campaign, however, have forgotten that. They’re happy to dismiss the entire initiative on the basis of an irrelevant supposition about the author of the underlying report.

In other words: their irreproachable moral righteousness and deep sense of personal ethics require them to remain silent about an abhorrent practice that affects hundreds of their colleagues because the guy who wrote the report might be a sourpuss.

It’s a pretext. It’s juvenile. It’s lame. And it is not the point.

Lead, follow, or get out of the way. That’s the point.

About No Peanuts! for Translators

No Peanuts! supports professional translators & interpreters in demanding & receiving fair pay for their work.
This entry was posted in CopyRight-CopyWrong, Notes from No Peanuts!, Press Releases, Resistance, The Sustainable Translator. Bookmark the permalink.

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