More on copyright and public domain

February 13, 2009

We received a very thoughtful response to the post on public domain, and if you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to read it in its entirety. But I do want to highlight his comments regarding another way translation is affected by our current copyright laws.

Another way that this does impact translation directly is in the availability of free editions of the classics online or the cheap copies available in print. The original isn’t copyright protected, but certain translations are– mostly the newest ones. I had a professor who used to rail against the Penguin Classics (among others) for constantly reprinting hoary old translations just because those were the public domain ones. Such translations aren’t necessarily bad in all cases, but aren’t necessarily as readable and reflective of new scholarship as newer translations that are protected under copyright– and these cheapies are naturally what school districts tend to end up with. So the asymmetry between what’s protected and what’s public domain does shape the availability of translations to the general public, by making the new translations either invisible or confusingly expensive to the uninitiated reader.

Dead on.

Be sure to read the rest of his comments and to check out the links he added.

-mb

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