Online translation sites (automatic and manual)

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  • Greetings,

    I've searched previous postings and do not see anything related to my subject here, so I'm presuming this is a first.

    I am just wondering about the many online translation sites that are available. They usually have ads on them, so I imagine there is commercial gain, here.

    If someone enters a single (1) sentence from a copyrighted work (regardless of whether that work is small such as a poem or large such as a novel) onto the translation site and receives a translation (generated either by a machine or by a human), is there a violation occurring here? Does it make a difference whether the translation is being used for personal use or commercial?

    Thanks in advance,

  • This is a question that I think has much broader implications than translation software, and I think we can take our guidance from broader web practice. While there are some limitations, case law (for example, Kelly v. Arriba Soft) has allowed things like thumbnails and snippets in a search context. Because this translation is purely mechanical, and often not very good - that is to say, the words may be correctly translated, but I doubt that the flow and nuance of most poetry would come through - I think that the current use would be acceptable. This does not mean that republication of those translations would be allowed, and I think that it's possible that we might run into more problems as the software improves.

    We can see glimmers of this with the complaints about the text reading software available on the new Kindle. Publishers are concerned that this feature might replace the audio book market. The argument I've heard is that the audio on the Kindle is bad enough that it would never replace professional reading, while good enough to provide a real service for those with visual disabilities, but the counter argument is that the software is improving so dramatically that within a few years it might actually rival a reader. We'll see!
  • Interesting question! The philosophical question behind this -- and excellect fodder for a science fiction writer -- is this: is a translation by a "robot" the intellectual property of that "robot"? Or of the robot's creator? Or the original author? Or the person requesting the translation? Or is it simply not copyrightable, since the program (unless it is improved) treats it pretty much like a mathematical question and gives the same answer every time?

    There may be some precedent out there in computer programs and their products; I know there have been shrink-wrap licenses that try to claim the products of any user of the progam as the publisher's intellectual property, but I don't know how defensible those clauses are in reality.

    Still, for a single sentence or other small portion, one could probably claim fair use.

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