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Who owns copyright of a translated text?

Person A wrote a text. Person B translated the text to a different language, as requested by a person A, as a paid translation service. Does the person A need to buy copyright or some other right of the translated version from the person B in order to edit or use for commercial purposes the translated text in the future?

Thank you.

3 Answers 3

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Likely depends on the jurisdiction, so my answer will be general, assuming European Union:

If the original is copyrightable (usually, if it is "creative enough" and not belonging to the list of exceptions), the translated text is creative as well and is considered an adaptation of the original, and as such the copyright is shared between the original author and the translator.

Usually, the distribution and property rights of the translator are agreed on in a license agreement beforehand, otherwise it might very well become impossible to publish/distribute.

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  • the translator might not have copyright at all, due to Work For Hire.
    – Trish
    Feb 15, 2023 at 14:36
  • @Trish Again, likely depends on the jurisdiction (but the EU law is pretty much harmonized). Usually, there is an author's right that is inalienable, and property right that can be sold. E.g. in Germany, author's right is not transferable, with the exception of inheritance. Feb 15, 2023 at 14:47
  • Correct, but Work For Hire in the EU is usually "you get only the right of being noted and payment"
    – Trish
    Feb 15, 2023 at 14:50
  • Work For Hire should mean that the copyright of the translation is owned by A, both in EU and USA, according to my current knowledge.
    – Jankoo
    Feb 15, 2023 at 14:58
  • @Trish Well, of course. We can ponder what is the correct translation of "copyright" into individual EU countries languages (or better, vice versa, which term translates as "copyright" and which as "property right"). Urheberrecht? But that's unnecessary legalese IMHO, the point is that you as a hired translator do keep some rights (usually the moral ones), but do not keep other rights (usually the (re)distribution ones) Feb 15, 2023 at 15:03
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You are missing the country, and you are missing which contract was signed. If the translator was paid to make the translation, then unless the copyright holder is very stupid, there will be a contract that tells exactly which rights the copyright holder has. That may be a license to financially exploit the translation, or a contract that says copyright will be transferred from the translator to the original author. Without a contract, you'd have to look at the law of the company where this happens.

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in the : A

A owns the copyright of the text because he wrote it. Now A hires B to translate it.

Thus, B makes a derivative as a Work for Hire. Work for hire means, all copyright is owned by A, and B has gained no copyright.

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    This is the case unless the employment contract specifies otherwise. Feb 15, 2023 at 14:35

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