Shakepeare and a translation concern

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  • I'm not sure where to turn with this question, but here is certainly a wonderful place to begin.

    Just a short background of our project. As a retired classroom teacher I've been involved with teacher-training program using creative dramatics as a teaching/learning tool for a state-supported teacher institution. Part of my instruction has involved the use of young adult Shakespeare scripts that were published years ago by my 'ol' mentor who has since passed away. I do have written permission form the publisher to reprint the Shakespeare scripts as needed for my classroom work.

    This past year an actor friend from a local professional theater group (that has a focus on Shakespeare) asked me to help put together a translation of the student script for Midsummer Night's Dream into Spanish for kids, since the theater group often has students attending their performances with a Spanish-Speaking background. Also the possibilities for such a script being used as a tool for Spanish classes seems like a real treat. I contacted my 'ol Peace Corps buddy who is a Federal and state certified Spanish translator, and over the past few months we have had such fun with making our work poetic and specific for Spanish speakers from our area.

    The question is with our changes, have we now created a new text and do we need to do anything to protect our work? We obviously want the translation to be used as only a learning tool. Is Shakespeare in Spanish a copyright concern?

    Thank you so much in advance!

  • Since this would be a translation of an existing work, it would be considered a derivitive work. If you were working straight from the Shakespeare, the fact that the original is out of copyright would make it easier, and you would hold copyright on the translation. But working from a recent adaptation that is still under copyright complicates matters. It looks like the relevant code is Section 103:

    ยง 103. Subject matter of copyright: Compilations and derivative works
    (a) The subject matter of copyright as specified by section 102 includes compilations and derivative works, but protection for a work employing preexisting material in which copyright subsists does not extend to any part of the work in which such material has been used unlawfully.

    (b) The copyright in a compilation or derivative work extends only to the material contributed by the author of such work, as distinguished from the preexisting material employed in the work, and does not imply any exclusive right in the preexisting material. The copyright in such work is independent of, and does not affect or enlarge the scope, duration, ownership, or subsistence of, any copyright protection in the preexisting material.

    The copyright code seems a bit opaque on the subject of translations specifically. If anyone else on the list has more information, that would be very helpful! I would say if you are JUST using this in the classroom with no intent to publish, that's one thing, but if this turns into a public performance it starts getting hazy, and if that performance should be recorded or your script distributed beyond the performers, hazier still.
  • Thanks you Janet and I do hope we can have a bit more clarification with the translation. Since PC buddy and I are both Shakespeare and Spanish savvy, we took great liberties with my mentor's original work from the 1950s, but, of course, this translation is a kind of "derivative" of Shakespeare.

    When you say "Public Performance" do you mean that a group of young adults (or adults) could not use the translation for a public performance where a donation is requested?

    Also for publication, how could we proceed?

  • Well, the easiest way to do this is work straight from the Shakespeare, then you don't have any worries about the copyright for the intermediate work. How closely are you sticking to the intermediate work, and how far doew it deviate from Shakespeare's original itself? If you're just using it as kind of a guide as to how to make Shakespeare more current and colloquial, you might not need to be concerned.

    "Public performance" is one of the rights a copyright holder has, so you can't publicly perform a work that's under copyright to someone else without obtaining permission, and especially not if money is involved. (Performing in the classroom is different -- you can do that.) As far as publication -- you can seek out a publisher, self-publish through something like, or just throw it up on a web page for anyone to use, perhaps under a Creative Commons license. But whatever you do, if it's your original work, it's your copyright as soon as it is "fixed in a tangible form."
  • Based on your original question, it sounds like the basic issue is whether your permission from your old mentor to use the young adult adaptations covers the making of a derivative work. To be able to publish and freely use the translation, you either need permission to use the underlying work or you need to know that that underlying work is no longer protected by copyright. You say that the young adult adaptations were published in the 1950s, so it is possible that the copyright expired after 28 years and was not renewed. If you know the date of the original publications, you an check one of the databases of renewal records, although these are not complete enough to determine for certain that something was NOT renewed. If you find that the copyright was renewed, you would need to decide if your permission is broad enough to cover the making of a derivative, as I said.

    The status of a derivative work like a translation is that there are usually two copyright interests -- that of the original author and that of the translator. As Janet says, if you translated directly from Shakespeare, you would own the only persisting copyright. But since you translated from the adaptations, you must account for the copyright that probably exists (based on original expression) in the adaptations and is (or was) owned by your old mentor.
  • Thank you both and from your replies it seems as though I'll have to contact the current publisher to ask for permission for a derivative since I know that the copyright from Scholastic has been purchased by another company.

    If that works fine! If not are you saying that we could then go back to the original Shakespeare and just redo an abbreviated version for young adults using our own experience and translating skills? I'm not sure I could clear my mind enough after using my mentor's versions in English for so many years!
  • Yes, your own translation direct from Shakespeare would have no copyright concerns.

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