Something Is Rotten: Let’s Put A Stop to Copyright Rustling

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Add your name to the “Put A Stop To
Copyright Rustling!” petition!
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 Something is rotten in the state of translation publishing.

Translators who translate for the publishing industry are losing copyright to their work in alarming numbers.

Recent research shows that translators’ copyrights are “rustled” out of their hands one third of the time in trade and commercial publishing—and eighty percent of the time in university-press publishing. (See 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.)

Some of the biggest copyright offenders in that research also happen to be the biggest publishers of translations in English—Europa Editions, Atlantyca (through its licensees in the U.S., Scholastic Publishing, Papercutz, and others), Gallic Books, Skyhorse Publishing, New Vessel Press, Columbia University Press, Yale University Press, Bloomsbury, and Routledge—to name a few.

Meanwhile, organizations that should be stepping up to advocate on translators’ behalf—the Literary Division of the American Translators Association, the PEN Translation Committee, the American Literary Translators Association—so far are either doing nothing or are moving with such glacial slowness, such obvious deference to publishers, and such apparent diffidence that it’s hard to be confident that their efforts will have any impact upon this devastating trend.

We want to know: Why so much tiptoeing? Why so much concern about offending publishers? Why so much reluctance to champion a simple, straightforward, basic right?

Recognizing translators’ copyright has nothing to do with the terms that publishers and translators may negotiate in private, and translators are free to license the use of their copyright to book publishers in any way that is mutually agreeable to the parties.

Contract discussions, however, must always begin with the non-negotiable premise that the translation is and remains the translator’s property.

Ownership of the translation should never be at issue. Rather, what is properly at issue are the terms by which the translator will allow her or his copyright to be used by a publisher. 

By analogy, this is the difference between owning a home and renting that home out. If you rent your home for someone else’s use, you do not cease to own it. A translator who signs away copyright does exactly that.

  • We call upon translators: Refuse to allow publishers to take your copyright. Negotiate whatever terms you like for the lease of your rights, but take copyright off the table. There is no legitimate reason for a publisher to own your copyright. If you won’t take action for yourself, then do it for your colleagues. You owe it to them to stop being the moral equivalent of scabs. Cultural work is still work, and acquiescing to unfair and exploitative workplace conditions hurts everyone.
  • We call upon translators’ associations: Your lack of direct action is not neutrality. By remaining silent or playing politics, you have chosen a side. Individual translators cannot wield the power you can to influence publishers to change bad policies.
  • We call upon the many, many virtuous publishers—And Other Stories; Arc Publications; Archipelago; Atria; Dalkey Archive; Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Hispabooks; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Le French; MacLehose; Minotaur; New Directions; Open Letter; Penguin; Pushkin Press ; Quercus; Seagull Books; Talon Books; Verso; Vintage, among a host of others in 2014—who recognize translators’ copyright as a matter of course: Within your industry—at your conventions, in your associations, and in the pages of your trade magazines—put pressure on your colleagues. They are taking advantage of your decision to do what is right. They are the neighbor who piggybacks on your wireless signal, the business owner who doesn’t pay his fair share of taxes. It’s your industry, and you can help stop copyright rustling.

How to take action:

  • Sign the petition at https://www.change.org/p/publishers-of-english-language-translations-put-a-stop-to-copyright-rustling.
  • Write copyright-rustling publishers and ask them to change their policies. (Addresses are listed in the report – http://tinyurl.com/lzpz2cm.)
  • Retweet the messages sent by No Peanuts! using the hashtag #CopyWrong.
  • Send your own Tweets about this issue to your colleagues and use the hashtag #CopyWrong. (Addresses are listed in the report – http://tinyurl.com/lzpz2cm.)
  • Blog about this issue.
  • Bring this issue up on translator forums, on translator mailing lists, and at conferences and meetings of the translators’ associations you belong to.
  • Demand that translators’ organizations do their jobs and advocate for translators against “rustling.” Silence is not neutral.
  • When you see reviews of translations in print publications or publicized on Twitter, Facebook, on blogs or elsewhere, find out whether the translator’s copyright has been rustled. If it has, say something!

No Peanuts! doesn't pretend to be a representative democracy. We don't publish comments that denigrate our movement, attack our writers, or show disrespect for translators. All comments must be signed with first/last name and include a verifiable email address.

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