Against copyright

Go PiratesEspecially in recent years, IPR regulations have been clearly strengthening and increasing further the power of those who were already powerful beyond any reasonable measure, especially monopolies, thus limiting in fact innovation.

Copyright has become the veil to hide the hypocrisy of those claiming to be in favor of protecting the rights of authors while acting for the continuation of monopolies and their prerogatives.

The EU Parliament is expected to license its new controversial copyright directive before elections in May 2018.

The Copyright Directive is meant to reform and update copyright for the Internet age. Advocates of this reform claim it will give authors a way to reclaim their moral rights easier. As a matter of fact, the directive would limit everyone as users without really forcing tech giants to take the social responsibility they would owe to the whole community. By enforcing further copyright protection, it would rather favor copyright holders, i.e. the companies profiting from content distribution, and leave almost all the owner of moral rights as helpless as ever. It is no coincidence that copyright collectives are totally in favor of the Directive.

Although advocates of the legislation argue it is primarily about delivering fair pay to content creators, most of these will still be left on their own in claiming their moral rights. And the costs to sustain a dispute—especially in court—will remain a serious deterrent.

Years ago, your truly was stolen his booklet on “Building a Localization Kit” by an Israeli LSP that grossly ignored the copyright notice, stripped it off, and republished the booklet on its website as its own. Of course, that was not the only case, and what is most offensive is the recurrent refusal for even the very simple and costless act of quoting the author.

In this context, the seminar on intellectual property rights in interpreting and translation assignments organized by FIT-Europe on November 23, 2018 was a wonderful opportunity not to be missed to feel the pulse of the situation. In fact, the key question that should have linked all presentations was, “How can intellectual property legislation benefit translators?”

Unfortunately, almost all presentations were missing a workable perspective, as if presenters did not do their homework. In the end, it became clear that an excess of protection, even if only on paper, like that often offered by the EU legislation, is just as ineffectual as the lack of it is threatening. In other words, regulatory excess can make hard tasks, such as data collection and processing for automation purposes, even harder. So, the only reasonable answer to the question above might be, “In no way.”

Things might be even trickier when asking how freelance translators could claim their moral rights when discovering their translations have been used for purposes other than the original ones. They would regularly be advised to hire an attorney, provided they have come to an agreement whatsoever with their customers envisaging what their translation was for.

In fact, quite interestingly, it has become clear from Laura Rossi’s presentation, how patent law can be used for pure protectionist purposes: The number and quality of patent applications and licenses in China have been skyrocketing for the last few years to anticipate and curb any ‘invasion’ while promoting domestic tech companies, just like the infamous bendy banana law and other amenities. Chinese didn’t like the West’s playbook. So, they wrote their own. They are less worried now about catching up with the West. Instead, they wonder how to pull ahead. By the way, in the autumn of 1984, Ronald Reagan promised “morning again in America.” Does this remind you of anything? At the same time, on February 27, 2018, the EU adopted a regulation to ban unjustified geo-blocking in the internal market and supplement other landmark achievements such as the end of roaming charges for mobile phones and the introduction of cross-border portability for online subscriptions.

Schizophrenic? Maybe.

However weird this may seem, intellectual properties apply also to translation memories and corpora, and translators could claim their moral rights even on segments. Typically, all LSPs re-use the translations received from vendors for new projects and purposes other than the original ones, and most transactions are not regulated by any contract. So, it would be harder than usual for translators to claim their moral rights in case the LSP or the end client re-use their translation even to train machine translation engines.

In short, with GDPR and COD life could get really complicated for translation industry players, even the larger ones, and a multilingual, multiple-aligned language repository of over one billion sentences as training data might be illegal or subject to the claim of their moral rights by many a translator. On the other hand, when opening the conference, Hugo Keizer, from the EU’s local office in The Netherlands, adamantly reminded the audience that the DGT has been running a massive collection of language data in the effort to develop a better machine translation engine than Google’s.

Therefore, le chiacchiere stanno a zero, talk is cheap, cut it. Let money and, secondly, ‘public’ interest prevail.

In fact, however poor is the source, it is true that the revenues of language data providers are growing. Rather than focusing on the data economy, the EU is targeting new monopolies to favor old ones, with their safe yields at stake.

In all this, translators—at least the few dozen attending the conference—are excited at hearing that copyright protection granted by increasingly restrictive laws and regulations will allow them to claim their moral rights and possibly and eventually stop the infamy of machine translation.

Incidentally, how can you imagine a world without language barriers without machine translation empowering anyone to access information from anywhere in the world in any language in real-time? What is more desirable, a post-lingual society or a multi-lingual society?

Is Kalev Leetaru’s idea to be stopped for the dearth of training data for all but a handful of languages?

P.S. Just like Jeremy Rifkin’s The Zero Marginal Cost Society is copyright protected, this website is immodestly protected against copying. If you are so impolite and disrespectful to be willing to copy its content without asking first or even quoting the author, at least you must do your best to find a way to fulfil your miserable ambition.


Author: Luigi Muzii

Luigi Muzii