Three glimpses: Transformative work, public domain music, and ethics

A musical note, in copyright jailThree missives, from a world in transition from monopolistic to freedom-based distribution.

From twelve years ago, a Russian author wrote an amazing transformation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, retelling it from the villain's point of view.  But he didn't dare have it translated into English, for fear of the Tolkien estate. For ten years, it got translated and sold in other European markets, but the English-speaking world was deprived. Now a fan has translated The Last Ringbearer for free, and released it for free as an ebook, with the disclaimer "For non-commercial distribution only".

If you've read Karl Fogel's "A Tale of Two Authors: Why Translations Happen, or Don't", you're sighing and nodding along. This artwork has a multinational fanbase, interesting things to say about an influential cultural artifact and the society it reflects -- and no English translation, till now. Tolkien, who's dead, doesn't get any more or less money. But Kirill Eskov, a living author, is deprived of an opportunity to benefit commercially from his efforts (likewise for Yisroel Markov, the translator).


A Tale of Two Authors: Why Translations Happen, or Don't.

(Translations: Français)

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Why don't books get translated?

If you think it's because it's hard to find willing translators, or because the skills required are too rare, I'd like to offer two case studies below that point to another explanation:

The reason translations don't happen is that we prohibit them. That is to say, translations are what happens naturally, except when copyright restrictions suppress them.

If you're skeptical, consider the following tale of two authors, one whose books are free to be translated by anyone, another whose books are not.

We'll even stack the deck a bit. The author whose books are freely translatable will be a relatively minor author, one whose books are not, to be perfectly honest, of earth-shaking importance. Whereas some of the the books by the other author are acknowledged masterpieces in their original language, and you will see quotes from a prominent scholar about how the absence of translations is "one of the great intellectual scandals of our time".


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