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Copyright of Translated Works.

by Nisah Haji Haron; translated from malay by Ted Mahsun

If a writer translates another writer's work, does the copyright belong to the translator or the original writer of the work?

Translated works are commonly found on the market. Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka has also published translated works, especially from winners of literary prizes such as the Nobel Prize and the like. If you go to Indonesia or China, the phenomena of abundant translated works is very much the norm.

Recently published books, like Harry Potter, have an Indonesian or Mandarin version within a period of not more than a month.

Are these translators called plagiarisers because of translating a work that has already been published earlier and was written by the original author?

In Malaysia, this question has to be referred to the Copyright Act 1987. Within copyright laws, ideas are not protected. They only protect the expression of the idea. This means that when a later author repeats a sentence that was used by an earlier author with the exact same meaning, without permission from the earlier author, then it is considered an infringement of the earlier author's copyright.

If just the idea is repeated but is presented in a different way, the later author can be said of not infringing the earlier author's copyright.

Translated works do get protection under copyright laws. Translated works are placed under the category of published works. Section 8 of the Copyright Act lists the type of works that fall under published works:

a) translated, adapted and arranged works and other changes made to a piece of work that can be copyrighted; and
b) collections of literary works, like short story compilations, poetry collections or anthologies.

This act also makes sure that the published work gets the same protection that the original text receives. The protection of the translated work will also not risk the copyright protection of the original work. Even so, a translation requires permission from the original writer.

According to the Copyright Act 1987, the right to translate anything to the national language is only given one year after the original work has been published. If no translation is currently underway by the original author, translators are free to do a translation into Malay after receiving permission from the Copyright Tribunal. The Tribunal will provide a non-exclusive license to the translators.

In simpler terms, the original author gets copyright protection as an author. The situation is the same with the translator who also gets the same copyright protection as with the original author of the work. This is because a translation is also a form of producing a derivative work from the original material. The process of translating also requires effort and dedication. This is what is protected by copyright.

In another situation, if a writer from Malaysia wants to translate his own works into another language, the copyright laws also allows for a form of protection.

Section 13(1) of this Act also says that the writer, as the owner of the copyright, has the exclusive right to allow it to be translated into any language whatsoever.

Originally published in Tunas Cipta, July 2006. Translated with permission.

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