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On Academia.edu, a user uploaded a Translation Database of Sun Tzu's Art of War, which includes translations as recent as 2020. Alongside it was a Bibliography Document that references all works shown in the former. I’d like to upload a similar document that shows Translations of Laozi’s Tao Te Ching, however I don’t know if this would violate any copyright protection held by the Authors/Publishers.

This site here, presents many translations, some entries consisting of an authors’ text verbatim whereas others either link to a pdf or to a wayback machine page. Seeing as it’s still operating, I’m assuming that TAO hasn’t violated any copyright protection, I’m wondering whether I could include translations appearing in TAO without violating copyright protection. I recognise that for some translations, in the case of Beck or Muller, I would need to seek permission in order to include them in the database, however would I need to do this for all translations that are not in public domain?

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  • would I need to do this for all translations that are not in public domain? Could you clarify?
    – user2768
    Commented Mar 18, 2021 at 9:29
  • @user2768 As far as I'm aware, translations of the Tao Te Ching published before 1923 would presently be in public domain, and those translations published thereafter would still have copyright protection. In the cases of Beck & Muller translations, contacting them may allow me to include their translations without violating any copyright protection, but in the case of others I’m not aware if I could include their translations in any circumstance freely.
    – TomDot Com
    Commented Mar 18, 2021 at 11:05
  • translations of the Tao Te Ching published before 1923 would presently be in public domain: That would (presumably) depend on jurisdiction.
    – user2768
    Commented Mar 18, 2021 at 12:50
  • I’m not aware if I could include their translations in any circumstance freely Translators may hold copyright.
    – user2768
    Commented Mar 18, 2021 at 12:51

2 Answers 2

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Laozi's work is not protected by copyright, you are free to provide translations. You cannot freely distribute translations of others.

This site here, presents many translations...Seeing as it’s still operating, I’m assuming that [the site] hasn’t violated any copyright protection

Your assumption is false: The absence of a take-down or prosecution doesn't imply an absence of copyright violation.

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  • The user I spoke about, included translations as early as 2020 in their document (as seen in the Bibliography Document), would this mean that they sought and obtained permission from the publishers/translator in order to include them in their document?
    – TomDot Com
    Commented Mar 18, 2021 at 11:09
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    @TomDotCom You cannot know whether others sought and obtained permission from the publishers/translator, unless they explicitly state that they have.
    – user2768
    Commented Mar 18, 2021 at 12:49
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As written here, translations of "out of copyright" works likely contain sufficient creative content that they may be copyrighted. Laws differ, of course, but it may be that the translation itself is copyrighted while the original is not.

If a work is out of copyright you can create a translation and (probably) copyright the translation. But the translations of others may have copyrights that you should not attempt to infringe and cannot do so ethically.

Given that, I'd be hesitant to upload a translation that claims copyright to any repository without the permission of the copyright holder.

But the propriety of uploading a "database" depends on what is included. If it is just references to translations (i.e. a bibliography) then it won't infringe, but including the works themselves likely does.

However, I also think that US law is stricter on this than in other places.

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