Via The Conversation, 30 June 2023, By Caroline Summers

The British Museum has had to apologise after a translator’s words were used without permission. Writer and translator Yilin Wang shared on Twitter that their translations of work by the Chinese feminist poet Qiu Jin appeared in the museum’s exhibition, China’s Hidden Century, without consent.

The museum’s subsequent press release cited “unintentional human error”. It explained that it had corresponded privately with Wang and had now offered a fee for the use of the translations. Along with the Chinese poems, these were then removed from the exhibition. But the removal of the texts has also fuelled criticism of the museum, and sparked a debate about the role of translators.

Translation and copyright

Literary translation is legally recognised as an act of original artistic production. This means that translated literary texts enjoy their own copyright status, independent of the source texts. While Qiu’s work is now out of copyright because she died in 1907, Wang’s translations are not.

The role of original creativity in translation practices is frequently ignored or underestimated. It’s common to talk about reading “author X” rather than “translator Y’s translation of author X”. Even the Nobel Prize conveniently sidesteps the role of translators and their creative work when it confers its annual literary honour.

More here. 

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