Translation of a play

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  • I'm an American playwright. My plays are frequently translated into other languages. The standard agreement that American agents sign with foreign agents all have the following two clauses. I have a few questions about each. Here's the first:
    Translator agrees that all work prepared by Translator in connection with the Play, including preliminary and final translations is work made for hire under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, as amended, commissioned by Author, and Translator and Licensee agree that all rights therein shall belong to Author. Translator waives any “droit moral” in the any adaptation of the Play made or to be made by him.

    Do other countries permit translators to waive "droit moral"? I have been told that the European Union does not. This is a contract signed by the playwright (the Author) with the foreign agent or foreign "authors' rights society" (the Licensee). I'm wondering if the translator can ever decide to withdraw his or her translation, or whether I really do own all rights to the Translation. These contracts, by the way, usually call for the translator being compensated if the translation is used.

    Here's the second clause:
    The Translator and Licensee agree to place a copyright notice on all copies of the translated materials and to register the translation for copyright in the name of Author in the country or territory where the Play is first performed in said language, deposit copies if required and comply with all laws of the country or territory necessary for the protection of such copyright.

    I wonder if anyone can actually register a translation for copyright in another country in the Author's name when the author did not write the translation.

    This is a real issue because I recently stopped working with a foreign agent with whom I signed one of these translation agreements, and he said that since I am no longer working with him I can no longer use the translation.

    Any guidance on this is very welcome.
  • Regarding moral rights, they are waivable in some countries and not in others. International agreements like the Berne Convention obligate signers to extend these rights but allow each country to specify who can exercise the rights (in other words, can they be assigned or waived). More importantly, the moral rights required by Berne are only the right of the author to claim authorship and "to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification... which would be prejudicial to his [sic] honour or reputation." So even if a translator does retain moral rights, that does not necessarily mean that he or she can prevent you from using the translation as agreed in your contract unless you do not give the translator credit or alter the translation in some way. The specific content of the moral rights, above and beyond this minimum requirement from Berne, may vary country to country.

    It is perfectly possible to register the copyright in a work when the person or entity in whose name it is registered did not write a word of it. This happens all the time with corporate-owned copyrights in works that are either work made for hire or for which the corporation (like a publisher) has received a transfer of rights.

    These points are offered for your information only; the best thing for you to do is probably to hire a lawyer to represent your interests in these transactions.

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