I have a list of just words in English language. Can I use translations of these words to other languages in commercial? For example Google Translate Terms of Service says that I can use their translations only for personal use. Important notice: I'm not planning to use these services each time I want to get a translation. I'm planning to use PREtranslated words list. Thanks in advance.

  • 1
    Why not use a dictionary instead?
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 21 at 23:20
  • @phoog I need to have about 3000 words translated to more than 10 languages.
    – MarikLetko
    Commented Jan 23 at 0:03
  • They do offer paid licenses for the service that allow commercial use.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 23 at 2:54

2 Answers 2


Single-Word translations are facts or uncreative

Facts are not copyrightable - See Feist v Rural. As such, 1:1 combinations might be considered facts and uncopyrightable. Further, there is no creativity in any individual word and the established one or more possible translations. Creativity only starts when the translation contains full sentences and actual expressions.

At best, the whole dictionary gets database copyright protection where it exists.

  • 6
    Incidentally, it is technically not true that translations are "facts", they are marginally creative creations, but this point has never been tested in court. If translations were mere facts, then every text in Language A would have exactly one translation into language B, which is manifestly untrue.
    – user6726
    Commented Jan 20 at 17:07
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    @user6726 single words. Think... "Guerre" - "War" - "Krieg". That triplet is a fact. But translating "La guerre ne change jamais" - "War never changes" - "Krieg verändert sich nie" shows some tiny spec of creativity, because I might have chosen different words for 'never changes' or even chosen a different word order. The creativity is in choosing from the list of possible translations.
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 20 at 17:13
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    @Trish I'm sorry, but things really aren't as simple. Especially when discussing very basic components of language like the verb be. Just look at the number of different definitions the English and French words have. And these are very closely related languages. They happen to share many of the verb's auxiliary uses. Other languages don't go down that route. Others do, but add more complexity, like the case of Spanish with its ser and estar, both of which would be translated as be in English. But is be then ser or estar? You cannot know without knowing the context.
    – terdon
    Commented Jan 20 at 19:59
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    @terdon You vastly underestimate what is a fact under copyright law.
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 20 at 20:33
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    @trish I don't think they're disputing what a fact is for copyright purposes -- just your suggestion that there is no creativity in translating a single word because each word has some single, objectively correct translation, regardless of context. That's a pretty wrong characterization.
    – bdb484
    Commented Jan 20 at 21:50

A creative work is only protected in the case of a person creating that work. The individual (conventional) words of a language are not created by the author, they have existed for a very long time. The relation between words in two languages may or may not be created (recognized) by an individual – the English and French words "egg", "oeuf" refer to the same thing and that equivalence has been known for a millenium (was not created by Google). Google's method relies on massive copyright infringement without any creativity (it is the automatic product of a computer program, possibly excused under fair use), and automatic computer program outputs are not protected by law.

This is not the forum for discussing how human translations work and why they can be creative (even when selecting an appropriate translation for a single word), it is sufficient to say that when a computer program emulates the human creative process (for instance in translating the word kutaangalaala in an obscure language, which I would translate as "to be paralyzed in not knowing know what to do in a situation"), that relation is not "a fact" and it is creative, but it is a relationship and not an expression. Method patents (not copyright) protect certain kinds of "relations". I probably cannot gain copyright over the short English phrase "to be paralyzed in not knowing know what to do in a situation" (the quantum of creativity required for protection is judged on a case by case basis).

In short, translations of words and phrases are not your property because you did not create those words, they already existed, and the specific arrangements that constitute a translation (into English, for instance) of one word in a language were also not created by you, they were created by someone else. There is a tiny chance that a translation of one word could be protected when the translation is a word-sequence with null prior attestation, but not a 1-to-1 translation "egg" ←→ "oeuf".

Google's prohibition is about something else: you can only use their software non-commercially, but you would not be e.g. embedding Translate into a commercial web page.

  • Thank you very much for your detailed answer. Sometimes it’s just seems that everything is copyrighted and you can’t use anything
    – MarikLetko
    Commented Jan 20 at 22:35
  • "the English and French words "egg", "oeuf" refer to the same thing and that equivalence has been known for a millenium" English hasn't existed for a millennium (two n's, by the way). Commented Jan 21 at 2:32
  • @Acccumulation, the exact same word existed in Old Norse, so we can say that the English word "egg" has existed for a millennium, even though English itself hasn't, I think. But that's perhaps a topic for English Language & Usage. Commented Jan 21 at 12:11
  • "you can only use their software non-commercially, but you would not be e.g. embedding Translate into a commercial web page": actually you can also use the service only non commercially, which includes using their API to translate text for a commercial purpose, _unless you have a suitable license, which they will be happy to sell you.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 23 at 2:58

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