Translators and copyright


Translation and intellectual property rights is a brochure/PDF prepared for the EU by Bird and Bird LLP. It is only available in English (a bit Franglish).

The brochure considers the law in the EU and in a number of countries (Belgium, France, Germany and the UK). It considers it both from an upstream point of view (is the original text subject to copyright?) and a downstream one (is the translation subject to copyright?).

Whether one’s translation might be copyright is one of those topics that translators’ mailing lists get heated about every year or so.

Copyright usually attaches to literary and artistic works. But what about other types? For example, are statutes copyrighted? One hopes not. They should be freely distributed. Thus it’s interesting that the EU does not exclude EU publications from copyright, but at the same time the Commission’s policy is to increase their use:

In this respect, the status of European Union publications is not very clearly regulated. On the one hand, there is no legal provision at the European Union level, as it is the case under national laws, which stipulates that legal texts such as Regulations or Directives fall within a category of works are deprived of copyright protection. The “Legal notices and copyright” contained within the “Information Provider’s Guide”40 and the section related to copyright in the Interinstitutionnal style guide”41 (these two documents emanate from the European Union institutions) both tend to go in the opposite direction: they provide for that the European Union owns a copyright on all official publications of the Union institutions or bodies. It does therefore not seem that the official texts of the European Union are legally excluded from copyright protection. That being said, the reuse policy of the European Commission42 aims at increasing the use and the spread of the European Union information, also to foster innovation. Hence we believe that the official texts of the European Union fall under that policy and should be easily and freely reused despite their possible copyright protection, in accordance with the provisions laid down under Decision 2011/833/EU, hence, among other things, under reservation of the
exclusive rights of third parties.

There is a comparison of how the four countries treat works created by an employee in the course of employment.
Exceptions to copyright, e.g. for educational use, are discussed, and this is also related to the problem of machine-aided translation (where your database might contain elements from copyright works). The law as it stands would appear not to protect machine (-aided) translation, and the authors would welcome ‘full compulsory harmonization’.
Another aspect considered is how various legal systems treat translations carried out without the original author’s consent.

I was particularly interested in the protection of official translations of official texts.

It derives from the situation created by the Berne Convention that a distinction must be made in most Member States between the following three types of works: (i) official texts/acts; (ii) official translations of official texts/acts; and (iii) non-official translations of official texts/acts. For the first two categories the regime is rather straightforward: no copyright protection. …The situation is more complex with respect to non-official translations of official texts/acts. Scholars consider that the wording of article 2(4) in fine indicates a contrario that a contracting party of the Berne Convention “cannot deny protection to non-official translations of these texts – presumably translations made by private publishers”.

(Is in fine a French Latinism for the German am Ende? haven’t seen it in English before).

There is more, of course, including information on database rights and recommendations for contracts with translators – I have just skimmed the 146 pages. There’s a bibliography and case references too. Recommended.

Getting through to HMRC on the phone

HMRC: Welcome to HM Revenue and Customs. To direct your call to the right place, I’d like to know why you’re calling today. So tell me, in a few words, what’s the reason for your call?
ME: A general VAT enquiry
HMRC: A VAT enquiry – is that right? Yes or no.
Me: Yes.
HMRC: And what is about VAT you’re calling about? You can say things like ‘I want to import a car’, or ‘Why have I received a VAT surcharge notice?’, or even ‘I’ve lost my password for online VAT.’ So go ahead – in a few words, what’s the reason for your call?
Me: I want to know how to charge VAT to the City of XYZ [it has no VAT number].
HMRC: About your payment options, is that right? Yes or no.
Me: No.
HMRC: Sorry, you can say things like ‘I want to import a car’, or ‘Why have I received a VAT surcharge notice?’, or even ‘I’ve lost my password for online VAT.’ So go ahead, tell me, what’s the reason for your call?
Me: How to charge VAT to a customer in Germany.
HMRC: A question about charging VAT outside of the UK – is that right? Yes or no.
Me: Yes.
HMRC: OK. And are you calling as the VAT-registered customer, an agent, an employee of a VAT-registered business, or something else?
Me: The VAT-registered customer. [their computer never understands this although they just offered it as an option]
HMRC: Sorry, which of the following are you calling as? Say: customer, agent, employee, or something else.
Me: Customer.
HMRC: Thank you. You can find lots of useful information about the VAT implications on both the importing and exporting of goods and services within the EU and beyond, as well as information on reclaiming VAT from other EU countries on our website, Now, if you would still like to speak to one of our advisers, please hold on a moment and I’ll transfer you. By the way, for quality and security this call might be recorded. [music]

The computer woman’s voice is exaggeratedly helpful and friendly.

The real person I eventually get through to is very helpful, but I have been known to swear during the above dialogue and to be bad-tempered afterwards.

The importance of learning German

It seems we in Britain still expect important events to be conducted in English. Thus the experience of the Telegraph’s ‘live blogger’ Ben Bloom yesterday:

Jürgen Klopp to quite Borussia Dortmund on July 1 – as it happened


And with that I bid you farewell. Again, many apologies for a hopeless lack of German knowledge. You’d think it would have been a prerequisite to live blog a Borussia Dortmund press conference but perhaps not. Only time will tell if the person who tweeted me suggesting I am getting “sacked in the morning” is correct.

I also apologise for this live blog becoming far too much about me. I can assure you it will not happen again. Let us end on what we came here for: Jurgen Klopp. It isn’t often that one of the world’s leading managers becomes available so expect the speculation to run, run and run some more until he gets another job. It’ll be interesting.

Thanks for joining me. Cheerio.

We like Jürgen Klopp and second that. And doubt whether it was his fault that he was given an assignment he could not understand.


Sadly, Ben Bloom has now gone home to start his German lessons. But he appears to have become something of a web sensation in the meantime, so here are some of the funniest tweets about his ridiculous press conference coverage.

(PS. We haven’t fired him. Yet.)

Bugg’s Lawspeak – legal translation blog

Stuart Bugg is a Barrister & Solicitor (New Zealand), Solicitor (England & Wales), and admitted to Regional Court of Nuremberg (Landgericht Nürnberg). I have had the pleasure of attending his seminar on translating contracts, but I am sorry to say I did not realize he had a blog, which started in January 2014. So here it is:

Bugg’s Lawspeak

I’ve now added it to my RSS feeds. I’m calling it a legal translation blog because it relates to English and German law and translation too.

Where has the Centre for German Legal Information gone? seems to have vanished from the radar.

Here’s my post introducing it in 2008.

It had links to all sorts of translations of current German statutes and many other documents too.

I hope it is just being updated and has not been removed altogether.

There is a site with links to ‘official’ translations, Gesetze im Internet, but there are many more statutes out there in translation, good or less good, that can be useful to translators and lawyers.

Pease pudding nearly banned from hand luggage


This is perhaps off topic, but I was surprised to read about this EasyJet case:

Geordie passenger stopped by airport security staff after pease pudding mistaken for Semtex

After being told that the consistency of the pudding could see it ‘technically’ classed as Semtex, he offered to let security taste it to prove it wasn’t.

The pease-pudding lover was allowed through with his snacks and simply warned to pack them in hold luggage the next time he travels.

He said: “I was very glad that they allowed me to keep them in the end. It is quite hard to get your hands on pease pudding down south.”

Since when is pease pudding hard to get ‘down south’? We always have boiled ham and pease pudding on Christmas Eve. And when we moved to Romford in about 1952, my mother was at Romford Market one day and went to sit down in the churchyard to have a rest, where she found two women eating saveloys and pease pudding out of newspaper. And now I read that these are a northern delicacy! And what is a ‘tub‘ of pease pudding?

Or does the actor not like the brand Foresight, which is the usual one down here? I think all the big supermarkets sell it. Well, maybe Foresight is too southern. And it appears that in the north east they eat pease pudding on its own in sandwiches, which is certainly strange.

It does elicit discussion.

New Seven Stars cat; You and Archbold

Easter Sunday was a good day to watch the new cat at the Seven Stars in Carey Street taking a stroll, albeit rescued from a dog at the end:

seven stars



He is not as magnificent as Tom Paine.

At Temple Station, the barriers carry an advert for You and Archbold, partners in crime:



The two big illegible ads in the background are for The White Book (as we know from elsewhere, anything else is a pale imitation).

Palace, hall, Schloß, Palais, manor, castle

My career as a translator of guides to buildings in Central Europe started ignominiously when I gave in to the resident of Schloß Leitheim, who insisted it was Leitheim Castle.

Others calls it Leitheim Palace, but are they right? Would Chateau Leitheim work? Schloss works, but I think of the American who asked the way to the Schlob in Heidelberg (surely a castle). The spelling reform has put an end to that for future purposes.

At all events, the French baron, sometime member of the Upper House of the Parliament of China and breeder of hounds and academic, Professor Jean Christophe Iseux von Pfetten has spent millions on buying and restoring Apethorpe Hall, a building with a past as varied as his, but some are a bit sniffy about his renaming it Apethorpe Palace.

The Independent article has a photo of Baron von Pfetten with his hounds. It’s a hall, not a palace: French baron defies etiquette by renaming his British stately home

Andrew Triggs, an amateur architectural historian and editor of the BISH (British & Irish Stately Homes) blog, said: “I am not convinced that Apethorpe’s history warrants it being named a palace just because it was visited once by Elizabeth I when she owned it. Osborne House, managed by English Heritage, was owned and built by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who visited many more times, but is not called a palace, so it seems inconsistent.

Andrew Triggs also tweeted on the subject. He blogs at British and Irish Stately Homes.

Here’s the name change on the English Heritage site.

It seems a bit odd to me to call it a palace, but so does the article’s mention of ‘tacit agreement’. What does the OED say?

1 a. An official residence or former residence of an emperor, king, pope, or other ruler; (also) an official residence of a member of a ruler’s family.
c1300 (▸?c1225) King Horn (Cambr.) (1901) 1256 (MED), Horn him ȝede with his To þe kinges palais [v.r. paleyse].
a1375 William of Palerne (1867) 1390 (MED), Þ his palays come.
c1400 (▸a1376) Langland Piers Plowman (Trin. Cambr. R.3.14) (1960) A. ii. 18 (MED), In þe popis paleis heo is preuy as myselue.
1469 in E. W. W. Veale Great Red Bk. Bristol (1938) II. 133 (MED), Yeven vnder oure Signet at oure Palois of Westminster.
a1500 (▸?c1400) Sir Triamour (Cambr.) (1937) 488 The hounde..Ranne to the kyngys palays.
c1550 Complaynt Scotl. (1979) vi. 33 Lyik as plutois paleis hed been birnand.
1555 R. Eden tr. Peter Martyr of Angleria Decades of Newe Worlde f. 259v, The dukes pallaice.
1614 in Bannatyne Misc. (1855) III. 210 Efter the sight of the parke and palice..[they] came to Bruntiland.
a1678 A. Marvell Fleckno in Misc. Poems (1681) 57, I whom the Pallace never has deny’d Will make the way here.
1768 Acct. Denmark 94 The royal palace of a handsome structure in the semi Gothic taste.
1792 in Columbia Hist. Soc. Rec. (1913) 16 130 The President..with the Commissioners examined the several plans for the Capitol and the Palace.
1821 T. Jefferson Autobiogr. in Writings (1984) 92 The King..was conducted by a garde bourgeoise to his palace at Versailles.
1853 J. Ruskin Stones of Venice II. vii. 233 The Ducal Palace stands comparatively alone.
1910 Encycl. Brit. I. 172/2 The ruins of Diocletian’s palace at Spalato in Dalmatia.
1990 Voice of Arab World Dec. 25 11 The meetings took place in the bunker in the Presidential Palace on Habib Square, Baghdad.

It looks as if the residences of a Roman emperor and an Arab President have also been called palaces.

For a view from a translator with more backbone, see fucked translation.

Germans and privacy law

There was an article in The Times on March 31: German obsession with privacy let killer pilot fly. The Times is not available free online but here is a link for those who can get it: Times article.

The article is by the Times Berlin correspondent David Charter and it argues that the crash could have been prevented if it weren’t for the confidentiality of German doctors.

German politicians have called for an overhaul of privacy laws that ­required doctors treating Andreas Lubitz to keep the killer co-pilot’s medical details secret from Lufthansa unless he obviously posed an “imminent danger”.

But that doesn’t mean that UK doctors would not be in the same dilemma.

It’s true that privacy law is stronger in Germany, as indeed the article goes on to say.

Under a German law that was passed in 1907, giving “the right to your own picture”, personal images may not be circulated or put on public display unless the consent of the ­person portrayed is given, which ­explains why the newspapers often pixillate some faces, and have not published pictures of Patrick Sonderheimer, the Germanwings captain, or members of Lubitz’s family.

General personal rights enshrined in the constitution lie behind the strict protection of individual identities in the German media, with many publications still referring to the co-pilot as Andreas L.

Andrew Hammel writes about the way German newspapers are loth to name Lubitz, whereas they were quick to name the Charlie Hebdo attackers in Paris: Respect our Privacy, say Germans About Germans. He links to a Washington Post article on the same subject:

Crash challenges German identity, notions of privacy

But at least by American standards, many Germans are expressing neither a strong sense of moral outrage nor a clamor to point the finger of blame.
The reason may lie in the sense that the crash is suddenly challenging some of the fundamental tenets of German life: that its titans of industry do not make mistakes. That well-thought-out rules — including those severely limiting the sharing of medical data — are things to be trusted in and strictly enforced. That in a country where Edward Snowden is nothing less than a folk hero, personal privacy must trump all else.