Ownership of translation memories: Clear copyright and usage rights in the translation process

It would be difficult to be without translation memories in the modern translation process, but it would be easy to be without disputes over copyright and ownership of content and data. We explain the framework conditions and explain why we give our customers all of the opportunities, without putting legal obstacles in their way.

What is a translation memory?

A translation memory (TM) is the digital memory in the translation process: a database in which all translations and the corresponding source texts are stored segment by segment. These sentence or segment pairs are called translation units. If previously translated sentences, paragraphs or text segments are repeated in other documents, the TM already has the translation ready, so identical content only has to be translated once.

This approach simplifies the translators’ work and creates clear advantages for clients and those assigning jobs: the translation is available more quickly and also becomes considerably cheaper.

Who owns the translation?

Texts are protected by copyright, translations are too

The right to use and utilise one’s own texts is clearly regulated in the German Copyright Act (UrhG). In addition to musical works, films, architecture and other arts, this also protects linguistic works. It takes effect as soon as the “threshold of originality” is reached and the work has a “perceptible design” that is “already substantiated so far beyond an idea that it can be perceived by human senses”. If it is a “personal intellectual creation” according to this definition, the text is a linguistic work and thus protected.

Translators are also authors

Everything that is to be done with the linguistic work must be permitted by the author(s). This also applies to the explicit permission to translate. Once this has been done, the relevant translator also becomes the author and the translation is a separate, copyright-protected linguistic work. Section 3 of the Copyright Act states: “Translations and other adaptations of a work which are the adapter’s own intellectual creations are protected as independent works without prejudice to the copyright in the adapted work.” Translators can therefore insist on their name being mentioned and decide on the utilisation of the text.

The exception proves the rule (as always)

Scientific or technical texts are an exception. Scientific teachings are not fundamentally protected by copyright, only the way in which the text is presented, for example the arrangement and design.

Another exception are translations that do not reach the required level of creation, meaning that copyright does not apply. This also includes machine-produced translations, because according to the current legal understanding, a machine cannot produce a personal creative work.
However, texts that have been pre-translated by machine and then post-edited by human beings, or MTPE, texts are “personal intellectual creations of the editor” and therefore protected as independent works.

Who owns the translation memory?

The translation memory that is created during the translation work is like the translation itself: from a purely copyright point of view, commissioned translation services do not generally belong to the client. A translation service provider also does not have an automatic entitlement to the TM data. But…

Translation memory at oneword

For translation memory applications at oneword, we conclude clear agreements and have an equally clear policy on property rights, IT security & data protection:

Our clients’ translation data is always stored in an individual client database and only used for their specific orders.
We guarantee you absolute confidentiality and protection when handling your documents and data. You will always have unrestricted ownership of the translated documents and translation memories.

As soon as a translation, text correction, modification, or DTP service, has been supplied and paid for, all the associated usage and property rights for it are immediately transferred to the customer.
Of course, this also means that our customers can request the TM data at any time and use it for internal purposes, for example.

The translation memory as a “litmus test” for choosing your translation service provider

Some translation service providers retain ownership of TM files, binding their customers to them, as changing service provider would lead to the customer losing the previous TM data.

It is therefore generally advisable to settle the question of utilisation and usage rights before commissioning translation services, also to avoid misunderstandings and later disputes over ownership of the translation memory.

Make sure contractually that you have the sole right of use in terms of time, space and purpose to your translations and therefore also to the TM files. If necessary or if you would like, you can then have your current translation service provider hand them over to you at any time and retain your independence and security.

Would you like to make your translation processes simple, effective and result-oriented? Then talk to us. Our experts for CAT tools and translation memories will be happy to help.

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Learn more about what we do and what sets us apart from traditional translation agencies.

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