I am an aspiring translator and hoping to go to university within the next two years. Part of going to university tends to include work experience in the section you wish to work in. Due to my location, it is near impossible for me to find work experience within a translation company, and as such, I would like to put some sort of translation 'portfolio' together, to show that I have put effort into ensuring this is the right path for me.

My question is, am I allowed to produce translations of different texts that are not in the Public Domain as part of the portfolio, providing I give credit to the original writers and link back to their site?

I understand that this can depend on the copyright licence on the website itself, but according to the law in general, am I restricted from producing translations of such works? Would the answer be the same if the site does not appear to display any copyright notice?

  • 1
    There are texts that would be legal to translate: Old texts, where copyright expired, and texts which explicitly allow derivative works (e.g. texts under the GNU Free Documentation License or under some Creative Commons licenses). Consider using these for your portfolio.
    – sleske
    Aug 10, 2016 at 9:53

1 Answer 1


U.S. law defines a derivative work in 17 USC §101:

A "derivative work" is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, [...] abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted.

Similarly, the Copyright Act of Canada reserves exclusively for the copyright holder the right

to produce, reproduce, perform or publish any translation of the work...

Finally, in any of the 171 nations that are signatories to the Berne Convention treaty,

Authors of literary and artistic works protected by this Convention shall enjoy the exclusive right of making and of authorizing the translation of their works throughout the term of protection of their rights in the original works.

Therefore, if it highly likely that you need authorization from the copyright holder to produce a translation of a copyrighted work in your jurisdiction.

In nations that are Berne signatories, copyright is automatic, so there is no need for a copyright holder to display a copyright notice in order to receive exclusive rights under copyright law.

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    How much would it matter that the translation was never distributed to the public or displayed publicly? (Hypothetical --- I don't know what happened in the case in question.) Aug 11, 2016 at 21:40
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    @MichaelHardy Private translations are related to private copies: law.stackexchange.com/questions/16884/… . Therefore, it's difficult to be sure about it's legality, although you are very unlikely to run into problems for keeping a private translation of a work.
    – Pere
    Feb 12, 2017 at 16:15

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