About public domain translations

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  • For a work of exception: The Impersonal Life (by Joseph Benner, first published in 1914, in the US)

    For my question, I think it is important to state what makes this work a work of exception, because it appears to my sens of logic that the very content, and form of the content of this work cannot be morally bound by copyright law in the same way other works are.

    Reasons for exception:
    1. During the life of the author, it was always published under: ANONYMOUS
    2. The title "The Impersonal Life", when observed after understanding the content, convinces any reader that Joseph Benner did not want to be considered the author of the work, meaning that HE HIMSELF did not consider the "underlying work" to be his, and that NO PERSON could be deemed the "original author" of the message, hence the title "The Impersonal Life". If he had claimed "authorship" for the message, it would have been contrary to his vision, or artistic expression of the message itself. Thus the author, would not claim that he is the author of the message, but simply a person who was the first to put the message in tangible expression (on paper), and that the divinity of the message, could not allow him or anyone to take credit for the idea. (this is only my conclusion)
    3. The form of the expression in this work seperates the work from any other book on the same subject, as it is very explicitly indicated inside the work that:
    a) EVERY STATEMENT is of absolute importance, that every word has absolutle importance, and that thus the reader should not go on to any "next" paragraph until he FULLY understands the meaning of the paragraph he just read. The author clearly implies that THE FORM of the work is "perfect in itself" and should not and cannot be changed, or else, the authenticity of the work (the moral rights of the author) would clearly be breached.
    b) Aside the explicit stating that the form cannot be changed (that everything in the work is in the form that it is for a specific reason that implies strict structure), the critics and fans of the book will also notice that it has been completly stripped of anything that is not ESSENTIAL to the development of the idea. In other words, it is intended, and IS, as direct as it could possibly be, and this is the way the author wanted it: stripped from any personal interpretation.

    For these reasons (The anonymous publication, the impersonality of the content (presented as a fact and not a creation), the strict implicit necessity for the form to be un-changed, and the lack of any words or sentence that are 'optional' to sustain the message), this book sort of becomes very hard to put in the context of copyright laws.

    Copyright laws clearly state that they must not hinder the public's ability to have access to the book, and the truth is that, in this case, that is all they seem to do, and it seems the author would role in his grave if he saw this.

    In this context:

    The book has been translated by two publishing house, one in france made the french version (now out of print) and another in the US I beleive more recently did the spanish version (still in print I beleive).

    But here is the thing: under the protection of the moral rights of the author, it would seem completly against the law to ADD ANY PERSONAL TOUCH to your translation. What protects a translation IS THE PERSONAL TOUCH that the Translator puts in his expression. But the book is called "The Impersonal Life". Meaning that putting your personal touch in it is opposite to the idea inside the book itself.

    This is not just my personal opinion, a proof of this is that in the french translation of the book that I own, the paragraphs are litteraly numbered in order to be clearly associated with a paragraph in the original english text. Meaning that to respect the authors moral rights, the original form was imitated as much as it was litteraly possible. And to make sure the reader sees this, the line changes, the paragraph changes, even the number of sentence used inside a paragraph, is practically identical to the original. If a sentence could be translated without adding a creative touch, it was the duty of the translator to do so. Another way to put it is that translating this work in respects to the moral rights of the author meant that you had to make efforts not to be creative. Hence almost all short phrases will find the exact same structure of ponctuation in all versions. There are no new words used, everything is respected. It is as if a computer had run a translation of it, and someone had re-touched that computer translation to correct the mistakes inherent to the 'non-human' process.

    By understanding this, I come to this conclusion:
    Since the original work is in the public domain, and because of the particularity of the work itself, it would be impossible to copyright a translation without infringing on the moral rights of the author.

    Yet, it seems that this is exactly what the french translation does. The reason being that no-where on the work does it mention the name of the original author (NO WONDER: he was still anonymous when that translation was published). When you go to the spanish version, it's different, it states that the author for that translation itself IS JOSEPH BENNER (even if he was dead when that version was published).

    So far, it would seem that it would be absolutly ridiculous to think that any of those translation could morally be copyrighted by the publishing houses that published them, making their own translation works of the public domain, as soon as they were printed.

    Yet all laws seem to say the opposite, and even though it doesn't seem to make sens, the translations do put a copyright notice in the works, saying that the rights are owned by the publishing house that printed it.

    Legally, that makes sens, but morally, it doesn't.

    Now how is the public suppose to make sens of this? The idea obviously is to enter all possible translations in the public domain. But how can one do this, given the complexity and particularity of this special work?
  • A translation is usually considered a derivative work and, as such, can be protected by copyright separately from the original work, even if the original work is in the public domain. For example, "West Side Story" is protected by copyright, even though it is a derivative of "Romeo and Juliet" which is in the public domain.
  • Are there different laws for old scientific books/works/treatises-- like Newton's Principia or da Vinci's notebooks?
  • Is the second part of Kant's Critique of Judgment, in English translation, available online/in public domain? I can find James Creed Meredith's translation of the first part (Critique of Aesthetic Judgment), but cannot find any translations of the second part (Critique of Teleological Judgment). I'm not interested in the latest translations or paying for an ebook; this is just some fun reading for me, and if buying the book is the only option, I'll just borrow the Guyer translation from the library. And if there's some reason why the second half is not in the public domain while the first part is, I'd be interested in finding out why.

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