Suppose I find a copyright-protected song that has not been released in English. Could I release and monetize an English translation/interpretation of this song?

  1. Is it possible to copyright my translation from Russian into English? It is a creative work, not a machine translation.

  2. Would that make it legal to monetize a "with English lyrics" music video on YouTube, with my translation up on the screen merged with the original band's music, like for karaoke? Significantly inferior versions already getting millions of hits on YouTube, and not taken down after 5yrs+.

  3. Would I be able to earn royalties off of my translation if an existing artist records it in English and it's successful in the USA? Other European bands have covered the song, so I assume it's not insurmountable.


1 Answer 1


Most copyright questions at this site are close. This one is not. Your work, in any of the permutations you suggested, would clearly infringe the copyright of the original song copyright owners as a derivative work.

You can probably get a compulsory license to make an English language cover of the Russian language song (apart from the fact that any kind of commercial transaction with Russia is ticklish right now given Ukraine war related sanctions). But you would still have to pay the copyright owner a licensing fee under the relevant compulsory licensing process.

As a practical matter, to comply with that process, you'll need a lawyer, at least the first time you do it, to learn how it is done.

Significantly inferior versions already getting millions of hits on YouTube, and not taken down after 5yrs+.

People have their legal rights violated every day and do nothing about it most of the time.

You can brazenly violate copyright laws (or any other laws for that matter) and take a chance that no one will try to enforce their rights against you. Sometimes, maybe even usually, you'll get away with it.

But, ultimately, that isn't a legal question. That is a question about how people will choose to behave in the future for economic reasons that are far beyond the scope of the law and the legal rights of the people involved.

At this point when you know you are violating the law if you don't get a license, it is similar to making a decision to shoplift, which is also clearly illegal. Maybe you'll get caught, maybe you won't, and maybe if you do get caught they'll let you off with a warning. You have to weigh that risk and make your own decision.

  • This answers the first part, namely that OP needs some licence from the holders of the original Russian language copyright. What about the second part, suppose OP gets a licence for the original, can OP get some copyright for their English translation? And in consequence force the other presumably illegal translations to be taken down.
    – quarague
    Commented Feb 1 at 8:40
  • @quarague: A licensing agreement is a contract that specifies what permissions the licensor has granted to the licensee. What you can do with such a license depends on the license.
    – Brian
    Commented Feb 2 at 1:45

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