A translation is a rendering of a nondramatic literary work from one language into another, such as a work that has been translated from English into Spanish, from German into English, or from Hindi into Malayalam.
Translations are among the nine categories of works that can be specially ordered or commissioned as a work made for hire, provided that the parties expressly agree in a signed written instrument that the translation shall be considered a work made for hire. See 17 U.S.C. § 101 (definition of “work made for hire,” Section 2). For a detailed discussion of works made for hire, see Chapter 500, Section 506.
A translation may be registered if it contains a sufficient amount of original expression. A translation that is performed by a computer program that automatically converts text from one language into another without human intervention cannot be registered because the conversion is merely a mechanical act. For the same reason, a transliteration or other process whereby the letters or sounds from one alphabet are converted into a different alphabet cannot be registered. See Signo Trading International, Ltd. v. Gordon, 535 F. Supp. 362, 364 (N.D. Cal. 1981) (holding that a list of words translated from English into Arabic and then transliterated from Arabic into Roman letters “simply does not embody sufficient originality to be copyrightable”).
• A Portuguese translation of a Spanish language newspaper could be registered as a derivative work.
• A Tagalog translation of The King James Bible could be registered as a derivative work, even though The King James Bible is in the public domain.
When submitting an application to register this type of work, the claim should be limited to the text of the translation, the applicant should provide the name of the author who translated the preexisting work from one language into another, and the applicant should provide the name of the claimant who owns the copyright in the translated text. Applicants should use the term “translation” to describe this type of authorship, rather than “text” or “editing.” When completing an online application, this information should be provided in the Author Created/Other field and the New Material Included/Other field. When completing a paper application, this information should be provided in spaces 2 and 6 (B) of Form TX. For guidance on completing these portions of the application, see Chapter 600, Sections 618.4 and 621.8.