Translation of instructions not a creative work/Übersetzung von Gebrauchsanweisungen kein kreatives Werk

This was reported last Friday: the German Federal Social Security Court (Bundessozialgericht) held that the translation of instructions for use is not creative. The context was a request by the Kunstlersozialkasse for contributions from a business. That pensions and health fund only admits members who do most of their translation for publication, so I would have thought there were other justifications for turning the Kasse down.

Kassel (dpa) – Übersetzungen von Gebrauchsanweisungen sind keine kreativen publizistischen Werke. Das hat das Bundessozialgericht in Kassel in einem am Freitag veröffentlichten Urteil zum Streit zwischen der Künstlersozialkasse und einem Elektrounternehmen aus Nordrhein-Westfalen entschieden. Nach Überzeugung des dritten Senats hat die Kasse zu Unrecht Sozialabgaben von rund 2700 Euro verlangt.

Die Firma hatte Bedienungsanleitungen und Werbebroschüren ins Englische und in andere Sprachen übersetzen lassen. Bei solchen Arbeiten fehle der Interpretationsspielraum, den es bei literarischen Übersetzungen gebe, urteilten die Sozialrichter. Er sei daher keine publizistische Leistung, sondern gewissermaßen nur eine Kopie des Originaltextes, wie sie auch ein Übersetzungscomputer liefern könne.

I think one would need to see the whole decision, because if the court said ‘not kreative publizistische works’, one doesn’t know which adjective the emphasis is on. I also have no idea if this has implications for the other courts in other aspects of translation and creativity.

The report was here but has scrolled.
(Reported by Marisa Manzin on the pt group at Yahoo)

7 thoughts on “Translation of instructions not a creative work/Übersetzung von Gebrauchsanweisungen kein kreatives Werk

  1. Paul, yes, it’s complete rubbish, but it may well be just the way the dpa summarized it. It seems reasonable that those people should not have to pay into the KSK. The wording is ridiculous.

  2. If it is not creative then I suppose Google could do the job just as well :-P Maybe the court would reconsider if their ruling were to be translated by Google to English and then back to German.

  3. Well this is what the Google Automatic and Extremely Creative Translation Tool came up with for the following:

    “Die Firma hatte Bedienungsanleitungen und Werbebrosch

  4. As far as I can see, the full judgment has not been published yet, but from what I have been able to glean from the lower court judgment, these were guys who had to translate simple instructions for use which were organized according to fixed rules and used a very limited set of terminology. So I think these quotes have to be taken as very much limited to the facts of the specific case, and they probably do not imply any disrespect for the work of translators in general.

    At any rate, the legal issue is not whether translators do difficult work – no one will dispute that – but whether they are covered by a mandatory social security scheme for self-employed artists, writers and journalists. The German courts use a very wide interpretation of the term “Publizist”, which is used by the relevant legislation, but obviously there has to be a limit somewhere. I am not sure how many people who translate technical material of that sort would consider themselves “Publizisten”.

    Christoph Coen

  5. Yes, of course. I hoped I’d made that point myself, that the judgment was OK. A number of technical and general translators have reported in recent months that the KSK has been asking their customers to pay into the KSK (despite the fact that those translators don’t qualify to be members), presumably as its finances are getting difficult. The decision seems quite correct.

    However, I would be interested to see what wording the court used when saying the texts could be machine translated. The newspaper article, at all events, combines the ideas of Publizistik and creativity in one sentence, when I would have thought the question of creativity didn’t come into it. But newspaper articles are often confused.

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