Monday, March 23, 2009

Argentine professor faces prison time for posting unofficial translations of out of print Derrida texts

A philosophy professor at Universidad Nacional de Lanús in Argentina faces possible jail time for posting translations of out of print books.
Most of these texts were out of print, or had never been translated. Now a publisher is bringing a few of these books into Argentina, and they're trying to get this prof imprisoned for supporting Derrida while he was unavailable.
(via bOING bOING, which links to Spanish-language story.)

American law probably isn't so strict, but the ethical issues are similar. What should be the penalty for translating out-of-print technical books?

R. Goldsborough recently posted on this subject to the e-Sylum. He queried five lawyers, 40% of whom said Tsvi Rogin's proposed translation of Problemeder frühen Elektronprägung could be illegal. Reid concluded that the legality of unauthorized uncommercial translations haven't been tested by the courts and violate no laws until the courts decide the matter.

I would be unwilling to be the test case! I figure if 40% of lawyers think something is illegal I'm likely to get a judge who agrees. I'm certain Goldsborough is wrong but it's similar to the old saw about foul balls and umpires. Does the umpire call the ball because it's foul, or does the umpire calling the ball make it foul? If calling a ball makes it foul then Reid is right and I am wrong.


Reid Goldsborough said...

Ed, you're continuing to make these large leaps to reach legal conclusions. This time you've misconstrued my research when you said 40 percent (two out of five) of the lawyers I spoke to said that the Weidhauer translation project "is illegal." Not one of the lawyers I talked to said any such thing, and I was very clear about this in my e-Sylum article, that because this case was a complicated one and nobody could find anything similar in the case law, none of these lawyers felt they could offer a firm opinion of the legalities.

As in the discussion, you're also using very tangentially related foreign and U.S. lower court cases to build your case that translation (of virtually anything, it seems) is illegal, a copyright violation. I pointed out in my e-Sylum article this isn't how the legality of anything is ascertained.

All this is amateur city. What's more, you seem bent on scaring people away from trying to translate foreign numismatic works so they can understand them, a very strange pursuit in that it could potentially interfere with the transmission of knowledge without benefiting anybody. Let me humbly suggest that there are far more noble causes out there and far better ways to spend your time.

Ed Snible said...

Reid, you interviewed five random lawyers. One said Rogin's project was “an infringement of copyright, technically” and another said “the right of translation belongs to the copyright holder”. Those are the 40% I'm claiming agree with me. The other three were not enthusiastic for your viewpoint but did not offer a firm opinion.

Warning my readers not to translate without permission is not my primary aim. There is an issue bigger than numismatics, the Copyfight. Many activists believe that copyright law bans some ethical behavior. One Copyfight wing that wants to abolish copyright, lead by folks such as the Pirate Party of Sweden. Another wing believes the only way to save traditional copyright protection is to reform it by adding rules about transformative use and rules for orphan works. I'm aligned with the second group. I believe it is noble to raise awareness of this issue and encourage folks to embrace the pro-copyright arm of the Copyfight.

Reid said...

You're again completely misrepresenting what I wrote and what I did. I didn't interview five "random" lawyers. I specifically interviewed five lawyers who specialize in intellectual property issues including copyright, lawyers recommended to me or that I otherwise discovered had expertise with copyright.

You said that I wrote that one lawyer said Rogin's project was "an infringement of copyright, technically." That's NOT what I wrote. I wrote that he said it's probably an infringement and that he like the others didn't feel he, unlike YOU, could offer a definitive pronouncement about the legalities. Further, with another of the lawyers I interviewed, when he said that "the right of translation belongs to the copyright holder," that in NO way means what you say it means, that this project is illegal according to him.

I know all about the copyright battle that's going on, involving online issues and other issues, which isn't a new battle. I'd suggest that misrepresenting what other people write is not the way to further any cause, whether it's wrongheadedly puritanical or not.

Ed Snible said...

Sorry you feel misrepresented. Feel free to use this comment thread to correct my mistakes.

Our disagreement may be a cultural thing. I work for a company that is extremely vigilant about copyright liability. We are currently being sued for $5,000,000,000. If a software engineer reads a program, even back in college, that solves problem X using technique Y he is considered 'contaminated' and probably shouldn't work on improvements to problem X. If he does work on X he must be extremely vigilant to not use technique Y.

I see an activity as infringing if a hypothetical adversary with unlimited resources could likely win a suit against me for $1. At work if I used a single sentences of "line of code" without permission I'd be fired. I would be considered a disgrace by my peers. It would be unthinkable to translate an entire book!