Reid Goldsborough submitted the following update on his research into the legality of publishing translations of numismatic books. -Editor Several weeks ago I wrote here about a project that a fellow coin collector wanted to initiate to have translated into English an out-of-print coin book written in German, Liselotte Weidauer's 1975 Problemeder frühen Elektronprägung. Last I heard, Tsvi Rogin was still looking for people to share the cost as well as for a suitable translator. If this project succeeds, perhaps similar efforts can be undertaken for other coin books.
I expressed the view that "As far as I know such translations violate no copyright laws provided you're doing so for personal use." This view was attacked elsewhere online, with one voluble online poster saying this was "completely wrong" and offering the definitive pronouncement that all language translation of copyrighted works without the copyright holder's permission is illegal, even strictly for your own use, contending also that the copyright law isn't about money or fairness.
Another poster offer the equally definitive pronouncement that translation of copyrighted works for personal use is legal but that it would be illegal if you shared the cost with others who also bought the original book because this would be considered "distributing."
I'm not a lawyer but I have taken one graduate course in communication law, and I have some understanding of the folly of laypeople making these kinds of definitive legal pronouncements. I've also written in some detail about the law and the Internet, interviewing experts, as a part of what I do for a living. This online discussion prompted me to write again, elsewhere, about the law in the age of the Internet, and in doing so I interviewed five lawyers who specialize in copyright and other intellectual property issues. I thought I'd also share here what I heard.
None of the lawyers I talked to would offer an unambiguous opinion about the legalities of this kind of language translation project, and opinions differed. One lawyer said for "personal use, the odds are that this would be regarded as fair use and would not result in a copyright infringement claim." Another disagreed, saying that this is probably "an infringement of copyright, technically, but it may not rise to the level of having the copyright law enforced." A third pointed out that commercial issues are as or more important than creative ones. "The courts are very focused on whether you're taking bread off the table of the author," he said, but this wouldn't be the case in this situation.
But he also said that you'd be at risk if the author made a conscious decision not to have the work translated, though this also is likely not the case in this situation as it would more likely be with a book of poetry, for instance. A fourth said that because the right of translation belongs to the copyright holder, it's safest to get his or her permission to translate a book. The fifth lawyer pointed out that when you can't contact the copyright holder, there are provisions in the international copyright law for obtaining a license to translate a book and even publish it commercially if a certain number of years have passed since the book's publication, depending on the country. Naturally, he said you should contact a lawyer.
The bottom line is that it's unclear exactly what the legalities are in this case because, as far as anybody I talked to knows, such a case hasn't been addressed by the courts, and even if it has, that case wouldn't be binding, only advisory, unless it was addressed by the Supreme Court.
Last I emailed him, Tsvi Rogin said he was trying to contact the publisher to get explicit permission to translate. In the meantime, "As far as I know such translations violate no copyright laws provided you're doing so for personal use" still holds true.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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