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Friday, January 21, 2005

Sale of Al Qaeda book causes stir

The Wall Street Journal story "Al Qaeda Book May Stir Debate Over Profit" (paid subscription required).

A collection of writings by al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, plus some material attributed to Osama bin Laden will be published by Bertelsmann AG's Doubleday imprint. The article describes the debate of profiting from the September 11 attacks that would likely ensue.

For one historian, the critical issue is that the public will be able to see and read original documents for themselves. "It's crucial to understand the people you are interacting with, especially when the interaction has taken a violent path," said Lawrence W. Levine, a professor of history at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

It is interesting that the original material was found at the the Library of Congress. The material was found by Raymond Ibrahim, who forwarded the material to a professor, who in turn sent the material to literary Glen Hartley of Writers' Representatives LLC. Mr. Hartley sold the project to Doubleday.

The article quotes Suzanne Herz, a Doubleday spokeswoman as saying that "Mr. Ibrahim will own the copyright to the translation that he prepares."

So here's an interesting hypo: What if al Qaeda sues Doubleday for copyright infringement? Here's what the University of North Carolina's Task Force On Intellectual Property has to say on translations:

The Copyright Act provides that copyright subsists in any original work of authorship that is fixed in tangible medium of expression. Originality means that the work was not copied from someone else and possesses at least a small amount of creativity. Does the work of translators and indexers meet the requirements for copyright? The matter has been debated among indexers and translators for years, and the answer may not be the same for translations as for indexes and may differ for various types of either. The Copyright Act actually mentions both translations and indexes. This column focuses on translations; next month’s will address the copyrightability of indexes.

Translations are a derivative work, and only the copyright owner can authorize a translation that will be distributed. This envisions a work that is translated into another language and distributed in the parts of the world where that language is spoken. Derivative works are infringing if they are not created with the permission of the copyright holder. Thus, a work of fiction or a best-selling biography cannot be translated into French and distributed without the original author or copyright holder’s permission. If the author authorizes a French translation, the author owns the copyright in the translation since it is a work for hire. According to the statute, for a work for hire, the employing party is the author. In fact, the translator’s name may not even be revealed in the work.

I highly doubt that al Qaeda would sue. Nevertheless, just a little copyright nugget for one to ponder.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a nutshell, Doubleday and the translator are on unfirm ground. If a translation is a derivative work of material copyrighted by al-Qaeda members and is not therefore copyrightable by anyone other than those members, then my duplication of that work is not actionable by Doubleday or the translator, only by the al-Qaeda members themselves.

I'll have to keep an eye out for jumbos entering the airspace above my dwelling.

3:45 PM  

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