Translations of public domain poetry??

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  • Hey,

    I'm a composer setting the text of a 12th century persian poet to music. While the poem is surely public domain, do I have to secure rights for the translation before publishing the work?

    Any insight welcome, thanks.
  • It will depend on when the translation was published (or when it was created, if it is unpublished). Although the underlying poetry is surely in the public domain, there may be rights in the translation, which will be vested in the translator or the publisher. So we need more detail to fully answer your question.
  • Just to expand a little bit, lets suppose you want to set the poetry of Omar Khayyam to music, and you want to use Edward Fitzgerald's classic translation into English Fitzgerald's translation of the Rubaiyat was first published in 1872 (and in the US by 1878), and Fitzgerald died in 1883. So there seems to be little doubt that that translation, like the Persian original, is in the public domain. The fact that there are many subsequent, and more recent, editions of Fitzgerald's translation does not mean that the copyright persists. Republishing a work after it has passed into the public domain does not revive the copyright.

    So you do have to think about the copyrights -- original and translation -- separately, but it is certainly possible to find translations that have passed, like the original poetry, into the public domain and are free for your use.
  • The particular translation I'm looking at was published in 2001 by a major university press.
  • Thanks, that clarifies it. I think I'll look at some other translations.
  • I want to translate a work that is in the public domain as an original translation and publish it in Brazil. I assume that I do not have to get copyright in either country. Am I correct?
  • Hi

    First of all I apologise if I am posting this query at the wrong place.

    Here is the situation and the question:

    My long-tearm goal is to become a full-time free-lance translator, concentrating mainly on the translations of fiction (maybe some poetry).
    I polish my skills by translating short stories and novels of my favorite English and Russian authors (classic and contemporary alike), but I do not know if what I am doing is legal. I have never offered my literary translations to anyone and I was never compensated for this work. I wouldn't mind though
    I am asking this question now because I found a non-profit electronic library, the owner of which would very much like to post some of my translations on it. But how do I know what am I allowed to translate and what am I not? Are there any rules? Are they different from copyright rules? Whom should I talk to in order to find out for sure whether or not I am allowed to perform (and maybe later offer to sell or simply post on the internet) a translation of a certain piece of fiction? Do I contact the publishers of that piece?
    Any ideas?

    Thanks in advance!
  • Hi. I am planning to publish my own translations of some public-domain poetry. Wondering how and where can I copyright my translations before publishing? Any specific pointers would be greatly appreciated.
  • My understanding is that an original work in the public domain can be translated and published because the copyrights have expired (which places the work in the public domain). If the work has already been translated (into your target-language), you may or may not want to translate it. When retranslations are created, it's usually because the previous translation was not very good. To see if a translation has been published, UNESCO's Index Translationum is a great source.

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