Feminist Classic Censored by Copyright Laws

Chances are, if you’re an American feminist, you’ve never read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Even if you’re a highly educated feminist who takes pride in having read at least a sample of all the important first- and second-wave feminists, you probably haven’t read her. Neither have I, even though I thought I had (it was assigned reading back when I was a Women’s Studies student).

You see, the real Simone de Beauvoir isn’t available in English – only in the original French. The English version I and many other English-reading feminists have read, is translated so badly that at times it says the exact opposite of what de Beauvoir intended. From a New York Times op-ed by Sarah Glazer:

Alfred Knopf, who thought the book ”capable of making a very wide appeal indeed” among ”young ladies in places like Smith,” sought out Howard Madison Parshley, a retired professor of zoology who had written a book on human reproduction and regularly reviewed books on sex for The New York Herald Tribune, to translate Beauvoir’s book. Parshley knew French only from his years as a student at Boston Latin School and Harvard, and had no training in philosophy — certainly not in the new movement known as existentialism, of which Beauvoir was an adherent.

”Parshley didn’t read anything about existentialism until he’d finished translating the whole book and thought he should find out something about it to write his introduction,” says Margaret A. Simons, professor of philosophy at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and author of ”Beauvoir and ‘The Second Sex’ ” (1999).

A close student of Hegel and Heidegger, Beauvoir often referred to their work using specific terms French philosophers would have recognized, but that Parshley did not. Toril Moi, who has made a detailed analysis of the translation, noted for example that the word ”subject” generally refers in existentialism to a person who exercises freedom of choice, whereas Parshley understood ”subjective” in its everyday English sense to mean ”personal” or ”not objective.” In his hands, Beauvoir’s discussions of woman’s assertion of herself as a subject become platitudes implying women are incapable of being objective.

More damning, when Parshley encountered existentialist terms for existence — such as pour-soi, or ”being-for-itself” — vis-Ã -vis women’s lives, he often rendered them as woman’s ”true nature” or feminine ”essence,” notions that would have been anathema to Beauvoir, according to Moi. ”The idea of existentialism is ‘experience precedes essence.’ Existentialism means ‘You are what you do,’ ” she says.

In addition, about 150 pages of The Second Sex is cut out of the English language edition.

There are qualified translators who’d love to take on the project; there are publishers, such as Harvard University Press, eager to publish a better-translated, complete Second Sex.

But the publishing house Knopf has the exclusive English-language rights locked up until The Second Sex goes into the public domain – in 2056. Knopf refuses to do an updated transation themselves, and they refuse to allow anyone else to publish one, either.

So, it appears, that ends the matter. Translating The Second Sex is too big a job for anyone to do for free. The marketplace would pay someone to translate it – but our ridiculous copyright law won’t allow the free market to function.

UPDATE: See also this post, which has some impressive examples of bad translation follies and a link for a petition.

This entry posted in Feminism, sexism, etc, Free speech, censorship, copyright law, etc.. Bookmark the permalink. 

78 Responses to Feminist Classic Censored by Copyright Laws

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  13. 13
    Robert says:

    Translating The Second Sex is too big a job for anyone to do for free.

    One word: Wiki.

    And then one another word: E-mailed text files.

    Not that I have anything to do with such a flagrant abuse of copyright law, of course. That would be wrong.

    (Now back to watching South Park episodes that I…um…found. Yes, that’s the ticket.)

  14. 14
    Brandon Berg says:

    Translating The Second Sex is too big a job for anyone to do for free.

    Not at all. In the software world, people do projects of equal or greater magnitude for free all the time. And it wouldn’t be so bad if it were split among several translators, as per the Wiki suggestion above. Assuming that it’s really as worthwhile a project as you say, someone organizing a volunteer translation project should have no trouble at all finding willing and qualified translators.

  15. 15
    Lu says:

    If you possibly can, read it in the original French. I haven’t read any of it in English (and, I must admit, I haven’t read all of it in French, even though there it sits on my bookshelf), but de Beauvoir has a beautiful, clear and direct writing style, very easy for the not-quite-fluent reader.

  16. 16
    Audrey H. says:

    I’ve read the original, too.

    Brandon,

    I’m a translator. Believe me – qualified translators who VOLUNTEER to work for free and do an excellent job are as real as Santa Claus.

  17. 17
    Elena says:

    I’m a translator too. You have to be VERY careful about translations, because a gung-ho group of volunteer self described translators can do way more damage than professor Parshley. Once a bad translation is made, it’s out there floating around and very hard to retract. Better to pressure the publishing house. You also have to be careful about accepting as true criticisms of translations, but the fact that 150 pages were left out does seem to indicate something is awry.

    Remember: bilingual people routinely overestimate their translation skills.

  18. 18
    dorktastic says:

    This is so sad, but true. I had a bilingual professor who would regularly point out the mistranslations when we studied de Beauvoir. They really do make a huge difference in interpreting the text. Y’know that famous quote “One is not born, but becomes a woman,” apparently should be translated as “Woman is a becoming.”

  19. 19
    Kitty says:

    Oh, that’s frustrating! I had just hauled it from my bookshelf to finally take a crack at reading it. :(

    Ampersand, question for you – can you make a recommendation? My French is too limited to try reading the original. Is it worth reading the bad translation, or should I avoid it altogether? I would really like to read de Beauvoir’s work, but I don’t want to make the effort and then wind up with a complete misunderstanding of it.

  20. 20
    AB says:

    Huh. This is interesting. I remember checking The Second Sex out of the library when I was a first-year in college, and getting really really turned off by it (which was a surprise to me, as every 2nd wave book that I’d read up to that point had seemed like a little revelation). The thing that I just found hard to get over was all the women’s “true nature” and “essence” stuff–which evidently is incorrect.

    That’s really cool to know. I have some ability to read in French–particularly if it’s not complicated–and this totally makes me want to find a French version to try out.

  21. 21
    Glaivester says:

    As I understand it, the person we should be balaming is Mickey Mouse. (Or maybe more rpecisely, Michael Eisner). Protecting the big Disney conglomerate is part of the reason for the ridiculous and unconstitutional perpetual extension of copyright law.

    (I am in favor of copyright, but things ought to go into the public domain at some point, and by “at some point” I do not mean two or three centuries from now).

  22. 22
    RonF says:

    The marketplace would pay someone to translate it – but our ridiculous copyright law won’t allow the free market to function.

    Can you expand a bit on this statement? What makes our copyright laws ridiculous? How would you change them? What do you think would be the effect on the free market if they were changed?

  23. 23
    RonF says:

    Feminist Classic Censored by Copyright Laws

    By the way, I find this title misleading. Censorship occurs when a government prevents something from being said or published due to its finding that the material is objectionable or immoral. The actor here is a private party, not the government, and unless there is information about this that’s not presented here their motivation is financial, not moral. Check out some definitions of “censorship” in any on-line dictionary.

  24. 24
    Robert says:

    Ron -

    The ridiculousness is not in the copyright law, it is in the extension of the copyright term. The law was fine up until Disney successfully lobbied to have the copyright term extended substantially, in order to protect the Mickey Mouse copyright (and some other valuable ones) that were about to become public domain.

  25. 25
    RonF says:

    O.K., I’ll buy that. I thought that it was way out of line myself when I heard about it.

  26. 26
    nik says:

    Yeah, I think “censored” is a bit strong.

    I’m not giving my unequivocal support to current copyright law: but the person who controlled the copyright to Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex was none other than Simone de Beauvoir. Because of this if she wanted to sell exclusive English-language rights to one company she had every right to. If she decided to pass the copyright on to her heirs, then they had every right to do what they wanted to with it.

    Copyright law gives people a monopoly of producing copies of books. It’s fair to say it blocks a free market, but it’s the author who gets the controlling power. In a sense the person doing the “censoring” is the person who wrote the book.

  27. 27
    aspazia says:

    I don’t know how to trackback to your site, so I am leaving the url of my post here: http://melancholicfeminista.blogspot.com/2005/12/de-beauvoirs-philosophy-lost-in.html

    Thanks for bringing this issue up!

  28. 28
    BEG says:

    Well, a couple of points.

    First, this isn’t precisely “censorship” — I agree it’s a bad situation (and an ironic shortcoming of certain aspects of copyright law) but nothing whatsoever stops anyone from going out and getting de Beauvoir’s book in French (if you can’t read French, that’s a minor detail, you can still get the book).

    Second, this problem is NOT limited to de Beauvoir! It happens in many other cases as well. Just try finding a good translation of Foucault’s work.

    Interestingly, in most other countries, you’d have to do your scholarly work based on the original language. In this country, however, we use translations, and as a result many (U.S.) scholarly tracts on de Beauvoir (and Foucault, and…) are fundamentally flawed.

    I do think all of us should write in to Knopf and demand another translation be done. If there’s enough demand, they should see a market for it…they might even improve the translation.

  29. 29
    nik says:

    Actually I have. What’s your objection? I realise the publishing company and agents may be involved with the sale of rights and the author may sign a contract, but you’re not compelled to and you wouldn’t do so if it wasn’t in your interest. Somehow the rights went from Beauvoir to Knopf – and she had to have some part in this.

  30. 30
    professional copyfighter says:

    RonF writes: “Censorship occurs when a government prevents something from being said or published”

    Copyright infringement can be criminal in the US; what part of putting you in jail isn’t government action?

    Even if there were only civil suits, the court would likely issue an injunction against publishing the new translation, enforced by the full power of the federal government.

  31. 31
    professional copyfighter says:

    RonF: Also, I don’t see anything in the definition of censorship which requires it to be based on notions of a work’s morality. Letters from soldiers on the front are often edited to remove information which might help the enemy; this is frequently described as censorship.

  32. 32
    Ampersand says:

    Kitty, my feeling right now is that you might be better off looking for a good book about Beauvoir’s philosophy than you would be reading the current English edition. That’s just imo, of course.

  33. 33
    Ampersand says:

    RonF: What Robert and professional copyfighter said. :-)

    BEG, I’m not sure I buy the idea that if it’s not total, 100% censorship, it’s not censorship. Let’s suppose that the only legal edition was one written in a language only three Americans can speak; would you argue that wasn’t censorship, either?

  34. 34
    nik says:

    I really have trouble with the word censorship. Firstly, it has connotations of pre-vetting. Secondly, whatever is being done is basically being done on the basis of the author’s rights.

    It would be a violation of copyright if I were to translate your blog into french and post it. Is my not being able to do this without your permission “censorship”? Is my not being able to cut-and-paste your blog into a printed book which I can sell “censorship”? I’ve trouble saying it is. Though perhaps that’s just false conciousness on my part.

  35. 35
    BEG says:

    Ampersand: I don’t think this is a good state of affairs, mind you. I’m hardly defending Knopf’s actions here, I think another translation should be done by all means. But it just doesn’t qualify to me as censorship. File it under “boneheaded corporate policy so intent on maximizing profit they can’t see the forest for the trees.”

    The essential problem underlying this is the copyright issue. However it is that Knopf wound up with the rights (they may have purchased it from her, or purchased, even consolidated, the rights from other people who inherited the rights from her) the main point is that they do now have that right, and it’s hardly censorship. I have the right to control how my works are translated and published. You have the right to ask me to make other translations available, but my stance is hardly censorship.

    However it seems to me that it would be far more fair to consider translations as derivative works, with the original remaining under the copyright owner’s hold, and the specific “performance” copyrighted by the particular performer; not the work itself but that particular presentation (this is how copyright works in music). But translations of written works doubtless inherited the typical rights associated with writings. I’ll have to run this scenario past some of the copyright lawyers I know; it certainly didn’t come up in the trademark/patent/copyright classes that I’ve taken. But this is another issue entirely and too much of a digression :smile:

  36. 36
    Mendy says:

    I see censorship as the government or one of its agents banning a book or discussion of any idea contrary to theirs. This is actually occuring in the middle East and in China.

    If Knopf owns the copyright to her work, any new translation would be purely at their discresion. I don’t see this as censorship. It would be like me zeroxing 50 copies of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone and selling the copies for five bucks apiece. I would have violated Rowling’s copyright to her work (or the publisher’s), but they would not be guilty of censorship against me.

  37. 37
    NancyP says:

    There is a valid concern that material that would be useful to public discussion is forever priced out of reach of the public by copyright law. For example, the old PBS documentary on the Civil Rights struggle, Eyes on the Prize, cannot be reissued, despite evident commercial viability comparable to other re-release documentaries, because the image media clips in it (film and stills) are not being made available at *reasonable* royalty rates for stock footage. To anyone – not just the documentary. This copyright extension potentially bars the use of news images for any documentaries of recent historical events (WWII and onwards). This is an invitation to further dumb down the American populace.

  38. 38
    Kyra says:

    *snarl*

    Don’t suppose someone could charge the publishing house with libel, or defamation of character, or misrepresentation, or misquoting, or whatever’s the legalese for perpetuating falsehood and otherwise profiting from misuse and deliberate mistranslation of someone’s words?

    Otherwise, might there be some way to charge them under anti-trust laws, as they are in effect a monopoly, and a harmful one, over at the very least this book?

    Probably not. It seems that I shall have to learn French.

  39. 39
    Josh Jasper says:

    Perhaps someone could translate it into Canadian :-)

    Or feminists could put pressure on to Knopf, who’d fold if there was enough of it.

  40. 40
    Kyra says:

    The marketplace would pay someone to translate it – but our ridiculous copyright law won’t allow the free market to function.

    Can you expand a bit on this statement? What makes our copyright laws ridiculous? How would you change them? What do you think would be the effect on the free market if they were changed?

    Possibly something to do with the fact that an important aspect of “free market” is competition. Specifically, anyone can offer their own work or products, without regard to how similar another person’s work or product happens to be. The exception, of course, is work, whether literary, artistic, or in the form of a new process/technology/theory, that is valuable because of the specific genius of the creator. JK Rowling’s work, for example, is hers because while anyone can put words on paper, the value of the Harry Potter series comes from her own mind. Anyone else who creates something using characters, events, or other Harry Potter-specific concepts, might well create something that readers consider valuable, but most of that value comes from JK Rowling’s work—if the secondary author had depended on her own creations, it would not have had as much value to Harry Potter fans. This value comes not from the secondary author, but from JK Rowling. This is why one cannot make money off of fanfiction.

    The above is true for art, literature, philosophy, and other things whose value comes primarily from the creative thoughts of the people who made them. However, it is not true for something like translation. Knopf Publishing is not the genius behind The Second Sex; Simone de Beauvoir is. Anyone with a decent knowledge of French and English can translate something from one to the other. A translation is not a creative work the way the writing of the book itself is.

    Obviously, copyright laws do not make this distinction. However, I am of the opinion that translations fall under the category of “facilitation of understanding of a work” rather than “creation of a work”—and exclusive rights regarding production ought to be the sole right of an author, and translations ought to be the domain of anyone willing to do the work of translation in exchange for whatever those who want that person’s translation are willing to pay—with, of course, a percentage of the profits going to the author, who is responsible for supplying the raw material that the translator made valuable to people who wouldn’t have found it valuable before.

    I consider it discrimination, in any case, that people fluent in French have access to an accurate version of The Second Sex, and people fluent in only English do not. To put it bluntly, it is wrong, and harmful to consumers, and in violation of the principles of both free market and free exchange of information (yes, I do call it censorship), for a publishing house to prevent the widely available existance of an accurate translation in order to continue to profit from a flawed one.

    Y’know, I might actually decide to learn French just to spite Knopf Publishing out of the price of a book. Just to be able to buy and understand the French version. In the meantime, are there any critiques, commentaries, or explanations of de Beauvoir’s work, written by someone who’s French-English bilingual, and available in English, that anyone happens to know of?

  41. 41
    Ann Bartow says:

    When the government brings the force of law to bear to prevent a person from using particular words or images to communicate, and to prevent others from distributing or reading certain words, to some of us that seems a lot like censorship. Copyright laws are a restraint on speech, but one that is tolerated by the First Amendment because the copyright system is supposed to incentivize the creation and distribution of useful, creative works. That’s not what is happening here.

    The copyright laws contain provisions for the compulsory licensing of musical compositions. If a musician wants to “cover” an existing tune, the composer of the song cannot prevent this, but is entitled to a reasonable royalty (caveat: I am oversimplifying the law a bit here – the copyright owner does get to control the first commercial exploition). In my view, the same sorts of rules should apply to translations, and but they don’t, for political reasons rather than “moral” ones. Unless organized, monied interests desire this change, however, it is unlikely to occur.

    Like most authors, Simone de Beauvoir probably had to capitulate to every demand of her publisher just to see her book in print. Copyright laws could be re-written to at least slightly improve the balance of power between authors and publishers, but don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

  42. 42
    Lorenzo says:

    This is a tragedy that really bothers me. I love Simone-de-Beauvoir’s work. I would love to have a decent translation in English that would allow me to get a clearer idea of her precise framework and understanding than I have now (mainly arrived at by reading her work against my general background with existentialisms).

  43. 43
    Elena says:

    There is such a thing as dynamic tranlation, where the meaning remains the same, but is put more colloquially. Or maybe I’m not explaining it right- I am a translator, but I’m not a linguist (linguists get mad when translators call themselves that). But “one is not born a woman, but becomes one” could be a good anglicized version of “woman is becoming” if that is what “woman is becoming” means in its context. I don’t speak French very well, but “woman is becoming” sounds like tranliteration, something that makes no sense or sounds wrong in the target language. Translators can decide to use language with equivalent meaning, instead of literal meaning. Such as: “no smoking” might become “prohibiited to smoke” in Spanish, or “talk to your doctor” might be “consult with your dr”, “sincerely” can become “attentively” in a letter. If I translated a letter into Spanish and signed it “sincerely” it would sound silly to my ears. Translation is about judgement calls by hopefully very competent translators and bilingual students may not be the best critics. There is really no way around the problem, since to be a very proficient reader in another language takes many many years, as it does with your first language. Volunteer, unvetted translation is NOT the solution if you are trying to correct inaccuracies or avoid them. Trust me, nobody needs that.

  44. 44
    jayann says:

    Elena, yes. I believe this is de Beauvoir:

    “On ne naît pas femme, on le devient”

    and the usual translation seems OK to me. (But I should add that French materialist feminists and French “difference” feminists disagree on its meaning.)

  45. 45
    Robert says:

    The problem here really seems to be the insistence of French people on holding on to their antiquated language.

    Make ‘em speak English!

    It was good enough for Jesus and the Apostles, it should be good enough for the cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

  46. 46
    Mendy says:

    Robert:

    I somehow doubt sincerely that Jesus and the Apostles spoke English. I can’t help but giggle at the comment though.

  47. 47
    Robert says:

    I somehow doubt sincerely that Jesus and the Apostles spoke English.

    Into the fiery pit with the blasphemer!

  48. 48
    Mendy says:

    To be technical, I believe that Jesus as the Apostles spoke either Hebrew, Aramaic, or in the case of Saul Latin.

    Into the fiery pit with the blasphemer!

    Wait, let me get my sunscreen first!

  49. 49
    Kristjan Wager says:

    A translation is not a creative work the way the writing of the book itself is.

    Actually, a translation is a creative work. A translation is much more than just directly translating the words – it also involves getting the right sense and feeling across.
    Read Umberto Eco’s Mourse or Rat? to get a better feel of the issue.

  50. 50
    Robert says:

    To be technical, I believe that Jesus as the Apostles spoke either Hebrew, Aramaic, or in the case of Saul Latin.

    Oh yeah, Mr./Mrs. Secular Atheist Scumbag? Then explain why it’s written down right here in my Bible in English! Ha! Now I’ve got you wriggling in the crushing grip of reason.

  51. 51
    Mendy says:

    Oh yeah, Mr./Mrs. Secular Atheist Scumbag? Then explain why it’s written down right here in my Bible in English! Ha! Now I’ve got you wriggling in the crushing grip of reason.

    Oh, that’s right. I forgot. The KJV of the Holy Bible was delivered out of heaven much like the ten commandments were delivered to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

  52. 52
    Elena says:

    There’s a new book out called Misquoting Jesus, or Misunderstanding Jesus and it deals with the mistranslation/ mistranscriptions of the bible. It’s probably a good way to learn about translation in general.

  53. 53
    Mendy says:

    Elena:

    Thank you for sharing that title with me. I will have to get my hands on a copy. I have often tried to study the bible using those that include the “original” Hebrew and Latin only to find out that those are translations as well.

  54. 54
    gantar says:

    I got here via the geeky reddit.com that covered the scoop because it
    involves copyright hindering enlightment and progress
    (a prominent issue at reddit.com).

    I don’t know anything about French or feminism, but I’ve learned
    one or two things about collaboration on the web and translating for free.

    1.) I’m not a translator by training, but I’ve done prestigious projects
    for all sorts of rags and publishers, sometimes for obscene amounts of
    money. A translator does /not/ need perfect command of the source language
    or perfect spelling and grammar in the target language. A translator needs good writing skills in the /target/ language and some passion and
    understanding for the subject at hand. Dedicated amateurs might
    run rings around professionals. I had repeat customers precisely for this
    reason: I concentrated on subjects I loved, and that showed in my
    translations. I think a famous, important book will find armies of
    dedicated volunteers. Contrast that to the current translation. Chances
    are, it was spoilt by a professional who cranked out page after page
    like bottlecaps without investing much thought or finesse. Many
    translations suck because the professionals doing it are nothing but
    professional.

    2.) Many hands make light work. As stated above, a seminal book with
    a large following will attract a large number of volunteers on the
    internet. Not every volunteer will churn out text, there will be others
    who read those text and be tough nitpickers. If you set up a wiki, it
    will be easy to organize the product, the people and their opinions on
    various details and issues. What might happen, though, is, that
    certain individuals will circulate their own versions of the translation,
    amending parts of the text in a way THEY see fit. The market, i.e. the
    readers will decide which version deserves the largest audience.

    3.) I spent weeks of evenings and Sundays translating a whole book
    from English into German. I never made a dime on it, but it was an
    important book, I liked it, it was open-sourced, and I got a large audience
    sending improvements, reformatting it, circulating it. If you look at
    the large body of manuals and documenation for prominent open
    source software, you will discover that their translations are often of exceptional quality.

    It has been done before a thousand times. You can most certainly do it, too. I don’t
    want to put anybody up to criminal activities, but I think the snobs
    from Knopf deserve being upstaged by a guerilla gang of Samizdat-translators. Download the software that powers wikipedia.org
    and get busy. Good luck.

  55. 55
    RonF says:

    Mendy, Amp, professional copyfighter:

    From Merriam-Webster:

    “to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable”

    From Cambridge International (as censor)

    “a person whose job is to read books, watch films, etc. in order to remove anything offensive from them, or who reads private letters, especially sent during war or from prison, to remove parts considered unsuitable”

    From the Compact Oxford Dictionary (again as censor, this time as both noun and verb):

    “a person whose job is to read books, watch films, etc. in order to remove anything offensive from them, or who reads private letters, especially sent during war or from prison, to remove parts considered unsuitable”

    All of these definitions show that to be censorship, the witholding of information has to be done based on a judgement of the content; merely blocking the information independently of a value judgement of the content. While I’ll concede that said value is not necessarily a moral one, Knopf is acting on the basis of their economic interest, not on a value judgement of the content of the other English translation that is out there (which would be impossible in any case since I take it from the up-thread comments that such an alternative translation doesn’t even exist).

    If you can find a definition of censor or censorship that defines the term purely on the basis of blockage of publication, without also being based on a security or value judgement of the information being proposed for publication, I’d like to see it.

  56. 56
    RonF says:

    I do find the argument that a translation is original enough that it should be regarded as a separate work under copyright law to be interesting, though. I know nothing about the process, but the descriptions above do make them sound as though there is quite a bit more creative process in them than I had imagined.

  57. 57
    Kristjan Wager says:

    RonF, there is indeed quite a bit of art to translation. Having said that, I will also make clear that while the individual translation should be copyrighted in the same way as the original work, a translation shouldn’t in any way affect the copyright of the original work.

    In other words, if company X buys the right to work Y and translate it into translation Z, then X have the rights to Y, and the copyright to Z.
    Even if the rights to Y is later obtained by a different company, Z is still owned by X. The reselling of Y might however lead to X loosing the right to publish Z, since it is derived from Y.

  58. 58
    Daran says:

    In other words, if company X buys the right to work Y and translate it into translation Z, then X have the rights to Y, and the copyright to Z.
    Even if the rights to Y is later obtained by a different company, Z is still owned by X. The reselling of Y might however lead to X loosing the right to publish Z, since it is derived from Y.

    Copyright is infinitely divisible. In other words it is up to the owner of a right how much of it to sell, (assuming, of course, that there is a buyer willing to acquire a limited right).

    Thus in your example, if company X has all rights to the work, then they can indeed make such a stipulation. However if they themselves acquired a limited right, then it would depend upon the nature of the limitation whether they could do what you suggest.

  59. 59
    Mendy says:

    RonF,

    I actually knew the denotation of the word censor. I never said that Knopf or any publishing company that legally has copyright to a work is commiting censorship for refusing to allow either translations or further production of any work.

    In fact this is what I said:

    I see censorship as the government or one of its agents banning a book or discussion of any idea contrary to theirs. This is actually occuring in the middle East and in China.

    If Knopf owns the copyright to her work, any new translation would be purely at their discresion. I don’t see this as censorship.

    I don’t disagree with your conclusion on this issue. In fact, I don’t think that Knopf or any other publisher is legally obligated to produce works, and a publisher does think in terms of economic interest. For a publisher to be guilty of censorship, their refusal to publish must contain some judgement of the material in question.

    And example of censorship in the marketplace would be Wal-Mart and its demand that artists change their work, or not be carried in their store. While this is perfectly legal, I believe this is an attempt at censorship.

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  61. 60
    RonF says:

    Kyra writes:

    “To put it bluntly, it is wrong, and harmful to consumers, and in violation of the principles of both free market and free exchange of information (yes, I do call it censorship), for a publishing house to prevent the widely available existance of an accurate translation in order to continue to profit from a flawed one.”

    As far as violating the principles of a free market, a market can’t be free if someone doesn’t have the right to sell their work under conditions mutually agreed upon by the buyer and the seller. Otherwise it’s not a free market; it’s a market operating under whatever conditions the people who have the power to do so set. As you’ve stated, you are still free to learn French. You are also free to hire your own translator, or to convince someone to translate it for free.

    As far as calling this censorship, check out my post #45. Knopf is not witholding the publication of a work on the basis of finding it’s content objectionable. It’s simply choosing to exercise it’s rights to not have another translation be made and sold, on a purely economic basis. Unlike a censor, Knopf has not withheld such permission on the basis that such a work would be offensive, immoral, etc. Unlike a censor, Knopf has no power to prevent such a translation from being made and distributed for free.

    BTW, everyone, I did a cut and paste wrong; the entry for the Compact Oxford Dictionary should be:

    “¢ noun an official who examines material that is to be published and suppresses parts considered offensive or a threat to security.

    “¢ verb suppress or remove unacceptable parts of (a book, film, etc.).

  62. 61
    RonF says:

    professional copyfighter offered to counter my argument by selectively quoting me as saying “Censorship occurs when a government prevents something from being said or published”, without including the rest of my statement “due to its finding that the material is objectionable or immoral.” Naughty, naughty, professional copyfighter. Removing an essential part of someone’s argument in order to enable yourself to counter it is quite dishonest.

  63. 62
    RonF says:

    Kyra wrote:

    “Don’t suppose someone could charge the publishing house with libel, or defamation of character, or misrepresentation, or misquoting, or whatever’s the legalese for perpetuating falsehood and otherwise profiting from misuse and deliberate mistranslation of someone’s words?”

    Well, you’d have to prove that the current translation is a mistranslation of the original work, which means you’d have a bunch of translators sitting in front of a jury arguing over the fine points of translating French to English, and then get the jury to agree that the result shows that the Knopf translation is wrong. Then you’d have to prove that Knopf knew the translation was wrong, or even that Knopf arranged for the translator to deliberately misrepresent the original work. Good luck on all that.

  64. 63
    PJ says:

    Go to Knopf and make them an offer. There is a dollar value at which Knopf will sell you either 1. the rights to publish what you want that they have (i.e., complete in English), or 2. hire you to agree to do the translation for them, for whatever financial arrangement might be mutually satisfactory (i.e., fee for translating plus a percentage of sales).

    I don’t see a problem.

    The fact that anti-feminism may influence Knopf’s price is irrelevant.

    The fact that people want to have read the classics of feminism is irrelevant.

    It has apparently been lucrative for the holders of rights to Joyce’s Ulysses to bother to put out a corrected version. Same for Kafka’s Trial – I believe there are multiple “correct” versions published.

  65. 64
    Ann Bartow says:

    If anyone is interested in law review articles in which law professors examine the intersection of copyright laws and the first amendment with a lot more sophistication than is really possible in the comments thread of a blog post, let me recommend:

    This and this.

    These articles espose different views about whether copyright law can be considered a content neutral limitiation on speech, and in the footnotes reference a variety of other law review articles in this topic that may also be of interest.

  66. 65
    Susan says:

    Reading this book in full is a first priority for you?

    Take the energy you might otherwise use on denouncing the Horrible Profit-Motivated Bad Publishers, gushing here at Alas about how badly the world is organized and how everyone is Out To Get You and how Men are intrinsically Bad, get off your butts and learn French. (And then a whole world of other literature is thus open to you!!)

    It’s not that hard, honest. Think. Every 4 year old in Paris who is not hopelessly retarded speaks and understands French, fluently; every child of 10 in Paris who is not hopelessly retarded reads it. A lot of English is derived directly from French, so you won’t meet any strangers here.

    You’re OK. Hang on. So don’t bitch. Just do it.

  67. 66
    Ampersand says:

    Susan, children who have grown up in Paris have an obvious advantage over adults when it comes to learning French. Small children have much better language-acquisition than adults do.

    It’s true that anyone who makes it their number one life’s priority to read The Second Sex can learn French. But those who would like to read it, but who cannot or will not make it their absolute number-one first priority, are not unreasonable for objecting to it not being available in English.

  68. 67
    piny says:

    >>Reading this book in full is a first priority for you?

    Take the energy you might otherwise use on denouncing the Horrible Profit-Motivated Bad Publishers, gushing here at Alas about how badly the world is organized and how everyone is Out To Get You and how Men are intrinsically Bad, get off your butts and learn French. (And then a whole world of other literature is thus open to you!!)

    It’s not that hard, honest. Think. Every 4 year old in Paris who is not hopelessly retarded speaks and understands French, fluently; every child of 10 in Paris who is not hopelessly retarded reads it. A lot of English is derived directly from French, so you won’t meet any strangers here.

    You’re OK. Hang on. So don’t bitch. Just do it. >>

    Those four-year-olds and ten-year-olds are completely immersed in French and also spend time learning to speak and read it both at home and in school. Despite that huge time commitment, they can’t read The Second Sex any more than most American ten-year-olds can read The Second Sex in translation. The equivalent would involve quitting my job and jumping into an immersion program for a year or so. In order to merely learn to read French on de Beauvoir’s level, I would require intensive courses for three or four years. That’s a hell of a lot more energy than it would take to, say, write to a publisher or comment a few times on a blog.

    Is this a joke? I can’t believe you’re making this argument in earnest. It’s like you’ve never spent any time learning a language.

  69. 68
    Elena says:

    There are a lot of langauge classes and langauge clubs now that improve their language skills by reading and translating, very slowly, as a group, books written in the language for adults. My mother’s Spanish club has made it’s way painstakingly through two novels, one Mexican and one Spanish. They aren’t children’s books and they aren’t abridged for second language learners. When possible, they also all read the published English translation along with it, and compare the published translation to their own. They have spotted some translations they disagree with, but more to the point they are enjoying a book in its original language and getting some brain exercise. Even weak second langauge readers can do this if they have the time.

    And Susan, someone else made this point but I’ll make it again- children’s fluency is still fluency according to their age level, or even less if they are second language learners. This is why using children as interpreters is such an awful idea, like leaving your ten in old in charge of talking to your doctor would be.

  70. 69
    BritGirlSF says:

    Wow, there’s a useful revelation. I remember having to read The Second Sex in college and HATING it, precisely because of the “woman’s true nature” nonsense. I just assumed that it was an accurate translation. How interesting that it just happened to get translated in a way that actually reinforces patriarchal ideas.
    My French is a bit rusty, but it would be worth the effort of brushing up on it again to get a more accurate sense of what the book is about.

  71. 70
    Elena says:

    Why is everyone assuming that the translation critic is correct?

  72. 71
    Daran says:

    RonF:

    As far as violating the principles of a free market, a market can’t be free if someone doesn’t have the right to sell their work under conditions mutually agreed upon by the buyer and the seller. Otherwise it’s not a free market; it’s a market operating under whatever conditions the people who have the power to do so set.

    Copyright isn’t a free market. Copyright is a Government mandated private monopoly.

  73. 72
    Lorenzo says:

    Elena,

    Why is everyone assuming that the translation critic is correct?

    Because I have some background in existentialism and the existentialism of Satre, which formed the basis for Beauvoir’s own work, absolutely categorically totally and wholly disallows for any true inherent nature to be atributed to man or woman.

    It is almost literally inconcievable that Beauvoir would have been an essentialist in that sense.

  74. 73
    huston3 says:

    Two thoughts:

    If the translation is fundamentally flawed, and not just a couple of problematic phrases here and there, then, wouldn’t providing a “correct” translation be, in effect, a different book?

    Does copyright law protect anything published under the author’s name and title, no matter what the inaccuracy? Presuming language diffences, “Mary had a little lamb,” translated as “Mary owned a llama fair?” would be protected, and someone would be prevented from providing a poem “Mary had a little lamb?” or anything that involved Mary, and the ownership of an animal?

    Secondly, why wouldn’t someone simply be able to offer a book in English that critiques the errors in the original–a book version of this article. Pointing out errors in translation would seem to be fair use of a work, the copyright owners would be able to see the books as a set, making even more money, and people would understand what the new translator/existentialist thinks de Beauvior was trying to communicate. A win/win/win situation.

  75. 74
    Daran says:

    Two thoughts:

    If the translation is fundamentally flawed, and not just a couple of problematic phrases here and there, then, wouldn’t providing a “correct” translation be, in effect, a different book?

    Does copyright law protect anything published under the author’s name and title, no matter what the inaccuracy?

    Copyright law grants a number of exclusive rights to (initially) the author of a work. One of them is the right to prepare “derivative works’, which include translations. Clearly a new translation is a derivative of the original, not a derivative of the old translation, so would infringe upon whoever now owns this particular right in the original. (As I said above, copyright is infinitely divisable, so it’s possible that the translation right in the original is owned by a different party from the distribution right in the original who might also be different from the rights holder(s) in the first translation, but in practice this kind of division is uncommon.)

    A work is a derivative work of another if it contains a substantial portion of the copyrightable expression in the original. Unsurprisingly there is a lot of case law concerning what is “substantial” and what is “copyrightable expression”.

    Presuming language differences, “Mary had a little lamb,” translated as “Mary owned a llama fair?” would be protected, and someone would be prevented from providing a poem “Mary had a little lamb?” or anything that involved Mary, and the ownership of an animal?

    No, because it is the expression of an idea which is copyrightable, not the underlying idea itself. If there are only a small number of ways to express an idea, then they can’t be copyrighted.

    Secondly, why wouldn’t someone simply be able to offer a book in English that critiques the errors in the original”“a book version of this article. Pointing out errors in translation would seem to be fair use of a work, the copyright owners would be able to see the books as a set, making even more money, and people would understand what the new translator/existentialist thinks de Beauvior was trying to communicate. A win/win/win situation.

    In my opinion, that certainly would be fair use. It could even quote expansively from both the original and the translation, so long as the quotes were necessary to the critique.

    I am not a lawyer. This opinion is worth the money you paid for it.

  76. 75
    RonF says:

    Copyright gives the developer of a creative work property rights to their creation. It thus gives the creator a market for their work that supports their creative endeavor and enables them to dedicate their time to it as opposed to having to have a “day job” and limit their creative endeavor to their spare time.

    Copyright does put some restrictions on the free market, but it also adds a great deal of value to it. If the creator had no property rights to their work they wouldn’t be able to get much money when they tried to sell it; no one could afford to pay very much money to market and sell a readily reproducible creative work if anyone else could just copy it. This in turn would greatly reduce the incentive and ability for people to dedicate much time to creative endeavors.

    The first market for a creative idea is that of the initial sale by the creator. The copyright laws add a great deal of value to that market, and encourage a great deal more creative work than in those countries that do not have such protections. Although many of the electronics we use today are made overseas, there’s a reason why they weren’t invented there. One of the very first laws passed by Congress was a copyright act, and subsequent American history shows that their priority was not misplaced.

    It’s true enough, though, that at some point copyrights become restrictive to the free market. This was recognized by that first Congress, which balanced the interests of the creator vs. the interests of the country by placing a time limit on intellectual property rights. But when the copyright act was passed, there was no concept that a creative act such as a cartoon character that was more than 75 years old might have a multi-billion dollar value. Those billions of dollars buys a lot of influence in the halls of Congress. Putting a time limit on copyright was a way of telling creators, “You’ve made enough money on this idea; time to create a new one, and let all the world use this idea unfettered.” The creator of Mickey Mouse was Walt Disney, not Disney, Inc. He benefited enormously from that creative act, as he very well should have. But he”s dead and gone, and I see no reason why it’s in the interests of America to protect his creative act more than 75 years later to the benefit of stockholders of Disney, Inc. If that means that Disney, Inc. loses a lot of money, too bad. They knew what the law was and should have come up with some new ideas to replace it.

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