Copyright Takes Down High-Profile Translation Of Thomas Piketty's Comments On Germany & Greek Debt

from the because-copyright dept

Here we go again with copyright taking content away from the public, rather than the other way around. You've probably heard about everything going on in Greece these days, with the big vote and the fight over Greek debt and how it will deal with it. Leading up to it, my social media stream suddenly filled up with people linking to a story at Medium with an English translation by Gavin Schalliol of an interview famed economist Thomas Piketty gave to the German publication DIE ZEIT. Whether you like/agree with Piketty or not (and I'm in the camp that thinks he's overrated), the interview itself was pretty interesting, making a key point that has gotten lost in much of the debate: that for all the pressure that Germany has been putting on Greece to repay its debts, Germany itself didn't repay its debts after World War II (or earlier wars). Lots of people have been talking about it, and tons of English-language news reports wrote up the story, with nearly all of them linking to Schalliol's translation. Just for example, here's the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, Quartz, Slate, Business Insider, Fortune, Marketwatch, and Vox, all of whom link to Schalliol's translation on Medium.

But, if you visit it now, you will not see the translation. Instead, you see this:
If you can't read it, it says:
I am currently in touch with DIE ZEIT to ensure my compliance with German copyright law. Updates will follow very soon. The original German interview with Thomas Piketty can be found here.
To be fair, it's quite likely that Schalliol's translation violated the copyright in the original. While some may debate whether or not a translation should ever really be subject to copyright (nothing is actually copied), it is pretty widely set in stone that translations are derivative works, and as such are subject to copyright. However, the simple fact is that DIE ZEIT did not choose to publish an English translation, and even if it now chooses to do so, it will happen after the big vote happened, rather than before, when Schalliol initially published his translation.

It's that translation that spread the interview far and wide and made it a big part of the public discussion over how Greece should deal with the German-led EU proposal, which it eventually voted down. I'm sure the copyright system supporters among you will leap to the defense of DIE ZEIT and the fact that, by law, its "rights" were violated. But, if you take a step back and look at the overall situation, it's difficult to see how the world is better off under such a result. If Schalliol had never been able to publish his translation, it's likely that Piketty's comments would have had a much smaller and more limited audience, limiting the role it played in the overall discussion. It wouldn't likely have had much of an impact on the end result, but at the very least, it helped provide a lot of context to people around the globe.

And, it's difficult to argue DIE ZEIT was somehow worse off. First, most of the articles actually linked back to the original as well, likely driving some amount of traffic. But, more importantly, it's difficult to argue that Schalliol's translation was a substitute for the original, given that even considering the small population that speaks both languages, it's likely that Schalliol's translation was almost entirely read by an audience that did not see the original and could not read it even if they wanted to.

If the intention of copyright is to better encourage the dissemination of ideas and knowledge, as we're often told, then shouldn't that kind of thing be encouraged, rather than discouraged? Instead, we get yet another story of copyright stepping in to stifle a public discussion of ideas.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2015 @ 12:46pm

    given that even considering the small population that speaks both languages


    Among the subset of all people on earth that have access to the mostly free and uncensored Internet, Germans are actually one of the bigger groups. I like to take amount of wikipedia articles as a proxy for the amount of people reasonably familiar with the internet in a certain languane (English being a special case) and Germany has the 2nd most articles even with their somewhat stricter notability rules.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), 8 Jul 2015 @ 8:11am

      Re:

      "Among the subset of all people on earth that have access to the mostly free and uncensored Internet, Germans are actually one of the bigger groups."

      Unless you count Youtube videos that have anything resembling music in them. It's easier to watch a music video on Youtube from China than it is from Germany.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Fagin Steele, 7 Jul 2015 @ 1:48pm

    No

    Hello? I was getting to be a regular reader of this website. But saying translations of somebody's newspaper articles in extenso should be copyright-free because... well, they oughta... an' I wannit wannit... and anyway hey the translation was widely published... no. No, no, no.

    If you think Piketty deserves to be read in your language, do a rewrite or an interview of your own. Don't rip off somebody else's work because you lack the imagination, talent or initiative to create something original. And if you think printed interviews are done by writing down soundbites verbatim in 15 minutes, you have NO clue about what journalism is.

    This is exactly the kind of theft that makes newspapers die, reporters look for P.R. work and the informed public fade away along with traditional journalism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 7 Jul 2015 @ 1:58pm

      Re: No

      . But saying translations of somebody's newspaper articles in extenso should be copyright-free because... well, they oughta...

      I didn't say it should be copyright free. I just questioned the benefit of copyright pulling down the article in this situation.

      If you think Piketty deserves to be read in your language, do a rewrite or an interview of your own.

      Why? What earthly reason could there be to go through the inefficent process for *everyone* especially Piketty to do another interview?

      Don't rip off somebody else's work because you lack the imagination, talent or initiative to create something original.

      It's difficult to take you seriously if that's your argument.

      Why did you comment on this site instead of coming up with your own site? You're so uncreative.

      And if you think printed interviews are done by writing down soundbites verbatim in 15 minutes, you have NO clue about what journalism is.

      Who said that? That strawman appears to have parachuted in from nowhere.

      This is exactly the kind of theft that makes newspapers die, reporters look for P.R. work and the informed public fade away along with traditional journalism.

      That's bullshit. Again, nothing that was done here took away from page views to the original at all. If newspapers are struggling it's because they fail to connect with their readers. That's it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        icon
        Whatever (profile), 7 Jul 2015 @ 5:30pm

        Re: Re: No

        Second comment in a month, because, well, I enjoy so much when Mike gets snarky with people rather than addressing the issues.

        "I didn't say it should be copyright free. I just questioned the benefit of copyright pulling down the article in this situation."

        The problem at hand is (a) you can't pick and choose because "it seems better right this instant", and (b) we would likely get more benefit if the second "writer" had contacted the person who was interviewed and asked their own questions, getting more benefit. At are minimum, they could have written their own article and quoted key parts of the original (and attributed it accordingly). The marginal benefit of people not having to run the German article through Google Translate or similar isn't worthy of creating a new exception to the rights of the creator.

        "Why did you comment on this site instead of coming up with your own site? You're so uncreative."

        Snarky, aren't we? His comment is entirely creative. Your comment makes it look like you are being intentionally obtuse and rude. Not nice.

        "That's bullshit. Again, nothing that was done here took away from page views to the original at all. If newspapers are struggling it's because they fail to connect with their readers. That's it."

        How do they connect, oh wonderful one? They connect by offering the type of original content, with the local (or audience) view in mind.

        The real benefit for the second audience isn't a sort of copy pasta translation, it would be in dissecting with a local eye, quoting the original, and adding value by giving the local perspective that may be missing to properly understand the story.

        Just running the story through a translate program and perhaps cleaning up the results slightly isn't creative, it doesn't add much value, and it doesn't give local perspective (and by local, I mean perspective relative to their viewership). That is exactly what you do here every day, citing stories, taking quotes from them, and adding your "local" perspective to them. Your readership would tell you that this is the value that helps you connect with them.

        The original comment writer made a very valid opening point, the concept that you want to create new exceptions to copyright because you may see a benefit in one way. Since translation tools are widely available, don't you think that the same benefit could be obtained by just writing about an article and sending people to view the original themselves - where they can decide to translate it if they want? That would seem to be a more beneficial end result with more value added, more local connection, and more benefit to all the readers - all without having to create another grey area of exception.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2015 @ 6:37pm

          Re: Re: Re: No

          What a surprise, Whatever promoting ignorance over information.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
            icon
            Whatever (profile), 7 Jul 2015 @ 7:08pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: No

            Yeah, promoting ignorance by encouraging discussion about something (rather than rote translation) and adding information, perspective, and value - and encouraging people to translate it themselves to read it.

            Yeah, I am promoting ignorance, I just want MORE information and MORE perspective, and clearly that breeds ignorance!

            See you next month troll.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2015 @ 8:21pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: No

              How is taking down a high profile translation promoting information?

              Is this another one of those "anomalies" you copyright fanboys love to talk about? When performance rights societies like SMAIS and anti-piracy enforcement groups like the Johann Schluter Law Firm are found to be committing fraud, that's when you guys chime in unison, "There must be more to this story"?

              Any fool reading your comment history can see how you enjoy bobbing and weaving out of any possible rational, logical statement, while quivering in your pants that every anonymous commenter is magically PaulT in disguise.

              Keep deluding yourself that denying yourself from posting is somehow a punishment, a pox on this site. Hint: It's not. If you struggle just a little harder you might generate barely enough brainpower to comprehend this.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
                icon
                Whatever (profile), 7 Jul 2015 @ 9:17pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: No

                Thanks for the personal attack. It's one of the many reasons I rarely post here anymore. 3 paragraphs, 2 attacking me personally and one insulting and baiting.

                Google translate can make an infinite number of translations. The ones who posted the translation could have not only proted information by pointing to the original story, but by also ADDING to it, with insight and additional information. The public would have gotten the translation (or could have read the original in German if they can) and gotten MORE information than just the translation had the second site actually done something other than just run a translation. Medium could have done so much more.

                The link to the original and commentary or background information would have greatly added to the knowledge. A simple link would have kept things even. The current page is effectively less informative only because they don't provide a link to a translate tool.

                There is no squirming or ducking and weaving. Medium didn't add to the discussion, and those linking to Medium (rather than the original) should really be pointing to the original source, not the knock off translation.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  techflaws (profile), 7 Jul 2015 @ 10:12pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: No

                  It's one of the many reasons I rarely post here anymore.

                  And that's a bad thing because...?

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2015 @ 12:21am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: No

                  ...you mean the link that was right there in the article to the original work?

                  That's how I found the original. So I could brush up on my extremely rusty German. That's my point - this doesn't seem to be about the translation work (done for the job); it seems to be about the translation getting to a much wider audience than the original Zeit article.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2015 @ 9:23am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: No

                  Have a DMCA vote.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Ninja (profile), 8 Jul 2015 @ 6:09am

          Re: Re: Re: No

          Man... We are better without your comments. Shoo, shoo.

          In any case Mike is not creating a new exception, he is POINTING OUT that we are all worse because copyright deprived the public of an important piece of culture that is central for a discussion currently happening.

          Can your atrophied brain register that? Now I invite you to discuss the merits of this point instead of digressing and discussing about things that weren't even raised.

          I'm almost betting 100 dollars he can't do it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Village Idiot (profile), 7 Jul 2015 @ 2:00pm

      Re: No

      Translating articles into another language makes newspapers die? The only way for the public to be informed is via "traditional journalism?"

      It sounds like "you have NO clue about what journalism is."

      Traditional journalism has been dying a slow death at the hands of traditional journalists. When infotainment and parroting become an organizations primary content at the expense of actual journalism, reporting sourced information with as little bias as possible, who then is to blame for killing "traditional journalism?"

      Must be those damn pirates.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      jameshogg (profile), 7 Jul 2015 @ 2:48pm

      Re: No

      What gives you the right to say that English-speaking folk have no right to conduct journalism by researching the words of foriegn speakers?

      Copyright grants the right to deny works even be read in a certain langugae AT ALL. That is a clear-cut profanity of freedom of expression: everyone forgets that freedom of expression is not just the right of someone to be heard but also the right of everyone to listen and to read.

      DIE ZEIT could deny its English translation ENTIRELY if it wished too. Are you happy with that level of power copyright gives to somebody? Especially when the stakes over Greece are very high right now?

      If the interview were funded through an assurance contract (e.g. crowdfunding) to cover the expenses and profit, something that doesn't need copyright to function, with the interview in the public domain there would be no problem and the journalists would carry on with their crucial profession *as well as journalists of other tongues.* Everybody wins.

      It is you who is putting roadblocks to the journalistic profession.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        jameshogg (profile), 7 Jul 2015 @ 2:54pm

        Re: Re: No

        If I were a deluded Euro-worshipping German-speaker who was conducting an interview such as this, I'd certainly use every opportunity to prevent the English with their more stable, state-currency from laughing as much as possible.

        Even if it means promoting a deliberate mistranslation with pro-Euro subtitles that were not accurate, where all other dissenting translations were stamped on using copyright law, or better yet preventing English translations entirely.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2015 @ 3:48pm

      Re: No

      Copyright infringement is not theft. It does not deprive the rightful owner of the enjoyment of his property.

      That necessary clarification out of the way, the next question that entered my mind is "How does Google Translate not infringe more copyrights than Napster then?"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2015 @ 4:03pm

        Re: Re: No

        Because infringement is about broadcast. Or rather infringement happens when you broadcast something.
        The audience of a google translation is 1. The audience of a newspaper is >1.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Ninja (profile), 8 Jul 2015 @ 6:13am

          Re: Re: Re: No

          Okay so what if 1 billion people use Google translator to translate something to several languages? Is it broadcasting now? Can you see how goddamn silly is your argument?

          Of course it ignores the point made by the article: even though it CAN BE COPYRIGHTED how are we as a society, humanity are any better by copyright locking it away? Isn't the whole goal of copyright to promote development, improvements to the society? Please elaborate on this specific topic. If you can.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Whatever (profile), 8 Jul 2015 @ 5:43pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: No

            1 billion individual actions are just that, individual actions.

            "how are we as a society, humanity are any better by copyright locking it away? "

            It's not locked, is it? Your example is 1 billion people translating it if they so desire, to whatever local dialect they want. The work is published, and people are free to enjoy it. It's not locked.

            What is "locked", as it were, it the ability for a third party to use and profit (in any manner) from translating it and offering it up as part of their own site. Even then, the site could have provided a direct Google translate link and been done with it, while highlighting key points on their site about what people could read in the translation - which would have added to the discussion and made us, as a people, richer with more information and perhaps another view to make us think.

            The goal of copyright is to "better" society, in part by encouraging new works rather than rote replication. It grants a benefit and a form of ownership to those who create new works, and stops others from merely copying. Had the site which posted the translation instead used the space for review, opinion, or adding information to the story, we would as a people be better off and gained improvement. Just translating, in a time when technology can do that fairly well, isn't anywhere near the benefit that additional voices, opinions, and information would be.

            and on that, I shoo shoo. Have a wonderful summer Techdirt, don't let the kool aid knock you down!

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2015 @ 5:50pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: No

              That is locking it away, because it's literally removed where no one can see it.

              This is your SOPA debate all over again. "Someone could still see it, so my constant attempts to inhibit most people from seeing it don't count!" It's funny to watch you squirm for wiggle room on how the usage of copyright law isn't to blame here.

              Seriously, though, if you find posting here such a pain, you could just shoo shoo and never come back. No one's forcing you. You not being here is not a punishment. Overestimating your importance is making you look like an idiot.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2015 @ 5:20pm

      Re: No

      "or initiative to create something original."

      I was unaware that a simple translation was considered an original work as defined by the prevailing copyright laws and precedence. Care to expound upon this claim?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Shelley Yiu, 8 Jul 2015 @ 7:11am

      Re: No

      You are a self-righteous fool. But at least it looks good on you.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jilocasin (profile), 7 Jul 2015 @ 1:53pm

    MIstaken intent of copyright

    I think your misunderstanding stems from this sentence:
    "If the intention of copyright is to better encourage the dissemination of ideas and knowledge..."


    It's not [at least not the modern version of copyright].

    The current intent of copyright is:

    To ensure that every imaginable use of copyrighted material results in the maximum windfall to copyright holders [authors, their heirs, and most importantly publishers] for as long as possible.


    Creating and disseminating a derivative work without prior compensation [regardless of how much the public might benefit] goes against the intent of copyright and should be stopped as soon as possible.

    Doesn't the publishers actions make more sense now?

    [none of the above statements should be taken as an indication that the author believes this state of affairs is in any way desirable or beneficial]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2015 @ 1:55pm

    If the intention of copyright is to better encourage the dissemination of ideas and knowledge, as we're often told, then shouldn't that kind of thing be encouraged, rather than discouraged? Instead, we get yet another story of copyright stepping in to stifle a public discussion of ideas.

    You, of course, leave off an important nuance. The point isn't to maximize dissemination, no matter what. The point is to encourage dissemination on the author's own terms. The claim that copyright is violating its purpose by recognizing the right to exclude others is childishly stupid. Those exclusive rights are the very means of promoting progress.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Wyrm (profile), 7 Jul 2015 @ 2:47pm

      "The point isn't to maximize dissemination, no matter what. The point is to encourage dissemination on the author's own terms."

      This is mistaking the - official - purpose of copyright (dissemination of knowledge and culture) and the means (allowing the author to choose the terms of broadcasting).

      The copyright is based on a constitutional right to allow a temporary monopoly on a cultural creation (means) in order to promote its creation and dissemination (purpose). The fact that it has been twisted into restraining dissemination (means) to maximize profit (purpose) is a corruption of the concept... that is sadly very difficult to reverse.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2015 @ 3:28pm

        Re:

        ¿¿"constitutional right"?? ¿In Germany?

        Copyright is not an American construct, the constitution is the basis of US copyright only.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Pragmatic, 8 Jul 2015 @ 5:59am

          Re: Re:

          Which is being exported to Europe via TTIP, one of those secretive NAFTA-style trade agreements that promise unicorns and rainbows but end up making us worse off by outsourcing our jobs, etc.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 7 Jul 2015 @ 6:22pm

    Differences With Germany


    • The Second World War (at least in Europe) was mostly a matter of cleaning up the mess left by the First World War.
    • The First World War was largely about France and Britain wanting to maintain their empires, and shut out newly-industrialized upstart Germany, which also wanted its own empire.
    • Germany was shamefully treated at the end of the First World War, with both its society and economy destroyed. Thus setting the stage for the rise of a right-wing strongman who could bring certainty to people’s lives and distract attention from everyone’s ills by blaming them on a scapegoat.
    • Anti-Jewish sentiment was widespread throughout Europe. (Some might say it still is.) And Communism was the big worry. Who cared that Hitler was massacring his own people? That was an internal matter, after all (as long as he didn’t invade other countries). At least he was keeping down the Communists.


    In short, there was a large factor of guilt in the way other Europeans treated Germany. Besides which, given the chance, the Germans were actually capable of pulling themselves out of the hole they were in. Rather like the Spanish and the Irish, more recently.

    Whereas Greece has been blithely taking the bailout money these last five years, without actually fixing the underlying problems with the economy. The ordinary people have received essentially none of the benefits. The country has already had €100 billion of its debt forgiven, but instead it has simply gone on to pile up more. So at some point the ones who are paying for it (mostly the Germans) have to say enough.

    Yes, the ordinary people will suffer even more than they have already. If only there was a way to help them directly, bypassing both the Greek government and its banks...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 7 Jul 2015 @ 6:58pm

      Re: Differences With Germany

      Besides which, given the chance, the Germans were actually capable of pulling themselves out of the hole they were in.

      Yes, and Greece should be given the same chance.

      Or Germany should be hit up with a few bills, plus interest.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 7 Jul 2015 @ 10:11pm

        Re: and Greece should be given the same chance.

        Didn’t read to the point where I explained that Greece had already had its chance, and blown it, before shooting your mouth off?

        You are Alexis Tsipras, and I claim my €5.

        Which I will pass on to the next Greek pensioner I meet.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2015 @ 12:30am

      Re: Differences With Germany

      Not correct. Like, almost completely wrong.

      Greece has been running only a slight deficit in the last five years. In addition, of that money that was pumped in, the debt 'relief' consisted of passing the private debt of the Greek government on to the European taxpayer's purses.

      The current situation is a direct result of both the previous Greek administration's incompetence and the ECB/IMF intentionally ignoring that Greece was failing to meet its projected returns to recovery, which was written about in 2010, almost immediately after the initial loan.

      And the debt that has piled up is as a direct result of the massive amounts of interest due: for example, of their current deficit of €52bn, nearly €40bn of that is in interest payments to the IMF.

      Another hting you are forgetting is that loans are based on
      risk. Those accusing Greece of becoming a 'moral hazard' are forgetting that the term is normally only applied to creditors who are using the loan as a club over the creditee.

      This could have been resolved with a further debt-relief, combined with a much lower bond-maturation rate and a bond exchange back in 2012. But then, as now, people are choosing political convenience rather than the economically sound option.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 8 Jul 2015 @ 10:04am

        Re: Re: Differences With Germany

        In addition, of that money that was pumped in, the debt 'relief' consisted of passing the private debt of the Greek government on to the European taxpayer's purses.

        Isn't a government's debt public, by definition?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2015 @ 4:51am

      Re: Differences With Germany

      Austerity does not work.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2015 @ 10:21pm

    Sooo... Google Translate is a copyright infringement tool? It allows millions of foreign readers to view websites and translate the content into their local language.

    I view this story as another example of copyright getting in the way of useful public services. Such as services for deaf, blind, and disabled people. Or people who don't know every single language in the world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DoctorJ (profile), 8 Jul 2015 @ 11:58am

    English Translation of Zeit Interview with Piketty

    An english translation of the Zeit interview with Piketty can be read at: http://pastebin.com/raw.php?i=5XrSriGD

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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