Both the Translation Field and the Law Confirm: Literary Translators Are Authors

Translation and law found common ground at the first public debate organised by the Macedonian Translators Association (MATA), entitled Literary Translation and Copyright, not only in the mixed line-up, but also in the mutual support and enhancement of knowledge and opinions by members of both fields.

In its announcement for the event, which took place on 18th June 2013, supported by the Faculty of Philosophy in Skopje, MATA approached the issue concerning the authorial status of translators from its own standpoint and presented literary translation as an “intersection of sorts between translation work and the literary art”. In her introduction, the event moderator Dragana Velkovska (MATA) referred to Walter Benjamin and indicated the difficult task of the translator to convey “the unfathomable, the mysterious, ‘the poetic’” in a text, something a translator may “reproduce only if he is also a poet. It is the difficulty and the seriousness of this challenge that give translators the right to consider themselves authors of the translated text, which oftentimes may turn into a new work altogether.

On the other hand, one of the definitions in the Macedonian Law on Copyright and Related Rights (LCRR) states that a copyrighted work is also the “modification of a copyrighted work, if it meets the conditions prescribed by this Law”—that is, if it is an “intellectual and individual creation”—and the modification may involve “translation, adaptation, including an audiovisual adaptation, a musical arrangement or other alteration of a copyright work and a work of folklore, as well as other written materials, such as translations of official texts not intended for official use.”

The debate panel consisted of: Ognena Nikuljski, a Spanish and English Instructor at the Faculty of Philology in Skopje and a MATA founding member; Maja Kambovska-Božinoska, PhD, Assistant Professor of Intellectual Property Law at the Faculty of Legal Studies of FON University; Ratko Duev, PhD, Head of the Classical Studies Institute at the Faculty of Philosophy in Skopje and President of the Publishing and Literature Committee at the Ministry of Culture, and Nina Daskalova-Stardelova, LLM, Director of the Macedonian Authors’ Agency (MAA).

The first speaker was Ognena Nikuljski (MATA), who, through colourful examples from her vast experience, presented the literary translator as author and discussed the problems she herself has faced in her attempts to realise what in the LCRR is called the right to “protect the integrity of the work”, that is the right for the translation not to be altered in any way without the author’s/translator’s permission. Nikuljski called attention to a very interesting aspect of a translator’s copyright, which is its abuse when a new translation of an already-translated work appears. Since she has been an expert at one such court proceeding, she stressed that we still do not have clear parameters that would help establish if the new translation is a completely new work, if in its creation an existing translation was consulted, or if it has been plagiarised.

The second presentation, which brought the most novel ideas from a strictly legal standpoint to the attendees—most of whom were current or future translators—was that of Maja Kambovska-Božinoska, PhD. She attempted to analyse the current Law on Copyright and Related Rights in a more accessible language and present its implications for translators. Dr Kambovska-Božinoska made a clear distinction between an author’s inalienable moral rights and the economic rights, which the author—or in this case, the translator—may transfer to someone else by means of a contract. She also made several comparisons with the Croatian, Serbian and French law, but also pointed out to translators what to be careful about when negotiating their contracts, particularly not to transfer more rights than the ones the original author has transferred to the publisher.

The third to appear was Ratko Duev, PhD, who approached the issue from several viewpoints since, apart from being a representative of the Ministry of Culture, he is himself a translator and educator of future translators from the classical languages. He too, like Dr Kambovska-Božinoska, reviewed the Law on Copyright and Related Rights, but also indicated a new aspect in the context of Macedonian higher education touching upon the issue of the authorial status of translators. Dr Duev expressed the tendency to include literary translations in the list of publications required for the promotion into academic/research positions, an option that does not exist at the moment.

The final presentation was that of Nina Daskalova-Stardelova (MAA), LLM, who underscored the practical aspects of her everyday work with authors of all kinds and the most common questions they ask. She particularly stressed the need for a written contract specifying the rights and responsibilities of both parties, as well as the compensation the author/translator is due for their work. Without a written contract translators will not be able to defend their rights in court proceedings should any problems occur.

After the speakers finished their presentations, an hour-long debate with audience participation ensued, and the event ended on a few key notes. The crucial conclusion was that literary translators are most definitely authors and that there is a law protecting their copyright. It is necessary for translators to get better familiarised with their rights and strive to realise them when negotiating publisher-author contracts.

The Macedonian Translators Association views this debate as just the beginning in considering the issue of the authorial status of translators and plans further activities in the future—in the form of similar events, workshops, but also authored texts and research—presenting translation as intellectual work to all stakeholders in the translation process, as well as to the general public.