Literary Translation – Part 2: Translation Contract

by: Fairouz Qoulaii

1. Introduction to publishing in the context of translation

The translator has a very detailed knowledge of the work. He or she has the power of words to bridge two cultures, which is why the Literary Translators Association of Canada (LTAAC) promotes the art of literary translation. 

Consequently, it is important that agreements between translators and publishers reflect this contribution. The Literary Translators Association of Canada (LTAC) therefore organizes various activities across the country and offers pre-established model contracts that include the rights and obligations of translators, publishers and other parties.

a) The Publisher’s Role

The publishing house plays the role of both intellectual and cultural mediator and entrepreneur who must pay attention to management and profitability issues. Its function is to select the texts, revise them to rectify and improve them, format them and print them for publication and marketing purposes while ensuring that they are consistent with its editorial line. 

The publishing house manages the sales of the books by taking care of the publicity and promotion on a national and international scale, in particular via press relations.

b) Why Publish

The purpose of publishing is to make the book known and to organize its distribution: a poorly distributed book is doomed to failure.

2. The publishing contract in the context of translation

The translation agreement may involve several parties: 

  • The translator; 
  • The author of the original work; and 
  • A third party such as a publishing house.

It goes without saying that the translator is an author and, as such, is vested with moral and patrimonial rights over his or her translation within the meaning of the Copyright Act. This person is therefore entitled to remuneration under the conditions defined by the clauses provided for this purpose in the contract. 

The translator assigns or licenses the exploitation rights of the translation to the publishing house that owns the rights to the original work for publication and distribution purposes. In other words, the translator “sells” or “rents” his or her copyright in exchange for royalties. 

The negotiation of the publishing contract will address several issues including: 

  • The volume of work to be done; 
  • The deadlines (allowing for quality work while respecting the publishing house’s publication schedule)
  • The translator’s remuneration  
  • Editorial expectations 
  • Specific translation constraints (adaptations, cuts, updates, appendices, etc.)

a) Parties’ obligations

The publishing contract is a contract where the parties have obligations towards each other. It is an agreement that allows the translator to be remunerated by the publishing house, and where he or she assigns or licenses to the publishing house the right to reproduce, distribute and sell his or her work, to exploit his or her rights or part of his or her rights under the conditions determined in the contract (see the information sheets on licensing and assignment of copyright) 

b) Step by step of the literary translation process 

i. Delivery

In accordance with the contractual obligations and customary practice, the translator shall deliver a neat and coherent text, within the time limit specified in the contract, indicating the final volume of the translation and pointing out any points of correction, verification or particular translation choices.

ii. Approval

The publishing house formally accepts the translation or, if necessary, asks for a revision or rejects it within the deadline set in the contract. If the publisher requests a revision of the translation, this may be done by the translator or by a third party.

iii. Corrections

The publishing house submits the corrections to the translator before the copy is typeset. The publishing house will also send the proofs to the translator, who will proofread and correct them and give his or her approval for publication.

iv. Publication and exploitation 

The publishing house informs the translator of the date of publication of the book and sends him/her the number of copies agreed upon in the contract. The translator’s name will appear on the book. The translator is given an annual report on the exploitation of the work and is entitled to payment of his or her share of the copyright. 

The translator may omit his or her name if he or she wishes. However, it is clearly established that the omission of the translator’s name does not affect the right to fees and royalties. The translator’s copyright notice must appear in all copies of the published or licensed translated work. 

In addition, the translator has the right to inspect all biographical notes concerning him or her, even if he or she assigns the rights of reproduction, and can ensure that they are not distorted. For example, the publishing house cannot make any changes to the manuscript or proofs without the translator’s consent.

Conclusion

If the publisher breaches the above obligations, it shall be contractually liable. It is then obliged to compensate the translator for the damage suffered and vice versa. 

Monetary or non-monetary compensation (order to do something or to stop doing something) would be possible under the contract or general contractual law: remuneration and royalties of copyright, derivative rights of potential works, non-recognition of the work done by the translator and of his or her status as author of the translation (which makes it possible to distinguish one translation from another when there are several, as is often the case for major texts).