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The Ethics of Translation


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I would like to pose a question.

While I have seen related issues discussed obliquely here, the ethical muddiness and, well, controversy (deserved or not) has made me reconsider posing that question directly.

I, therefore, chose to post the question to my blog, to avoid breaking any rules, written or unwritten, that I might otherwise be breaking. If a staffer would be so kind as to inform me as to whether or not the content of the linked material would be acceptable here, I'll go ahead and paste it into this post--I'm not trolling for his or anything moronic like that, is what I'm saying.

To summarize things, I'm simply trying to wrap my mind around the justification--or lack thereof--of unlicensed translations of Macross media. Is it right? Is it wrong? You can easily offer your opinion from just that summation, but due to the existence of certain specific circumstances, you may be better served reading the article proper (it's a short read).

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The way you've posed the question implies that it's focused on translations themselves, but the article implies that it's translation + re-release of the original media.

So... you may want to clarify exactly what your asking, especially in light of the topic title. Ie the ethics of unlicensed re-releases of media that are translated into the target language of the consumer.

Edited by sketchley
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I agree with Sketchley (damnit, that's twice today! Oh well, it is friday, after all ...).

In addition, you've posed the question about The First at the end of your first question - this will imo bias the sort of answers you are going to get (people will decide their answer to the final question first and then go back and twist their answer to the first question to justify this).

Ultimately, what is it you are asking? Peoples opinion on the impact of fan translations? Or whether or not you should continue your latest project?

Regarding the former, I also think you should probably remove games from the discussion since the factors behind the decline of the Japanese games industry are primarily (i)technical, and (ii) social in nature. The current position of the games industry wasnt effected by hordes of free fan-translations of games online that people could DL freely.

On the other hand, I feel that manga and anime can, for the most part, can lumped together for the purposes of the discussion you've framed.

My personal stance is that:

(i) Fan translations should stop if a C&D is received from either the Japanese rights holder or a local holder of distribution rights, regardless of whether its been licensed in the fan translators territory or not. Media creation is not free and entertainment is not a right. If those that own it say stop, then translations should stop. I dont think that anyone who does otherwise can truly call themselves a 'fan'. Those that create the media have every right to stop unauthorised reproduction and distribution of it. If it doesnt get released in a particular territory for whatever reason, then tough luck. Again, entertainment is not a right. Having said that, realistically speaking, fans like stuff and want to see said stuff. Stuff will therefore be downloaded, regardless. I think that people should, however, buy/import the original copies as well to support what they are watching. The instant people start saying that they couldnt afford the original is the instant they admit their download was unquestionably a form of theft imo. But THAT discussion is one for another thread, if not another forum.

(ii) Fan translating of anything is not ok if the media in question is still current. That is, that its being produced and is still selling. This includes anime, manga, CDs that are still readily in-print. The exception would be something like a translation/guide for a game (ie, Macross 30), the translation of information from a publication but not a scan of the actual publication (ie, Sketchleys work on the Chronicles), or a plot translation/summary of a manga (but not scans of the actual manga itself). These, imo, are exceptions because they facilitate to the enjoyment of the media without detracting from the actual sales of said media and may, in ideal cases, actually promote increased sales to some degree.

Again though, the above is only my opinion, for better or worse, and I freely admit that it may be biased by both my being in Japan and working in a company that creates some of the products that may be covered in a discussion like this. I daresay my broke-ass university-aged self of 10 years ago wouldnt agree with my grouchy, salaryman self of today.

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There is no ethical question to the production of translation guides or summaries, as there's no violation of copyright law and no infringement on intellectual property rights. The same cannot be said for direct translations of retail entertainment products.

As for clarification of my question... it is a twofold question: how do you define the ethics in general, and specifically with a case like Macross media--e.g. does the Macross' franchise' status overseas (re: Harmony Gold) make it an exception?

As I've stated, I've grown into the opinion that "scanlation = bad," but I'm uncertain as to whether or not this sentiment can be applied to something like Macross.

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Summaries/separate translations posing no violation of copyright or registered marks is just the point - I think that they are a happy medium and a way of getting around the issue you are posing, especially when it comes to Macross, since they allow people to enjoy the media AND allow the rights holders in Japan to see (hopefully? over time?) that there IS a market for Macross outside of Japan. As such, I stand by my last reply when it comes to my ethics on the situation. I will sometimes offer summaries, answer questions, transcribe events, or translate interviews - because these are not things that would detract from sales of current media.

But then of course, Macross is unique in that the years of legal disputes it has been embroiled in have left most fans outside of Japan with little illusion about there ever being authorised translations, and therefore fan translators tend to respond accordingly (ie, since theres no chance it will be released, there is no ethical issue with translating it UNLESS theres a C&D from the rights holders). So even I admit that this makes it a grey area. I myself own all of Frontier on BD, but have had to resort to download fansubs here and there in order to enjoy it with non-Japanese speaking friends. These cases are rare (ie, I've never downloaded a Macross song) but I'd be lying if i said they didnt happen on occasions.

So what does all this add up to? Ethically, its a no-no if its current media in my region (Japan). As a consumer, I will temper this on occasion, provided I own at least one copy of the original product. As a contributor, I will not translate in full any current media in a form that would facilitate its electronic distribution or acquisition as a substitute for buying the original product.

Again though, just my personal stance.

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From an ethical standpoint (not a legal one), I'm okay with scanlations if the criteria below are met:

A) The work is currently unlicensed in the USA.

B) There is a reasonable chance that the work will never be licensed in the USA. Obviously, no one can predict the future. But I think if the work is part of renowned franchise, such as Gundam, then there's a reasonable chance that it could be licensed. Likewise, if the work is completely original, but done by a renowned creator, such as Hayao Miyazaki, then I believe it also has a reasonable chance of being licensed.

C) If A and B are met, then I'd be ok with a scanlation, just as long as it's released no sooner than 3 years from the series' conclusion. If a scanlation is released too soon after a series' release, then it may chill the market for possible reprints/compilations.

I realize that primarily niche, or obscure, titles would be released under my guidelines. But, I think that niche and obscure titles are the ones that stand to benefit the most from the added exposure that scanlations would bring.

Yeah, my beliefs aren't very fun or popular, but when it comes to other people's intellectual property, I like to err on the side of caution.

As I've stated, I've grown into the opinion that "scanlation = bad," but I'm uncertain as to whether or not this sentiment can be applied to something like Macross.

Under my guidelines, Macross the First would actually meet B's requirements. Even though Macross is popular and Haruhiko Mikimoto is a renowned artist, the series has no reasonable chance of being released in the USA due to legal conflicts with Harmony Gold.

The only obstacle would be C, but if you waited 3 years...

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I would like to pose a question.

While I have seen related issues discussed obliquely here, the ethical muddiness and, well, controversy (deserved or not) has made me reconsider posing that question directly.

I, therefore, chose to post the question to my blog, to avoid breaking any rules, written or unwritten, that I might otherwise be breaking. If a staffer would be so kind as to inform me as to whether or not the content of the linked material would be acceptable here, I'll go ahead and paste it into this post--I'm not trolling for his or anything moronic like that, is what I'm saying.

To summarize things, I'm simply trying to wrap my mind around the justification--or lack thereof--of unlicensed translations of Macross media. Is it right? Is it wrong? You can easily offer your opinion from just that summation, but due to the existence of certain specific circumstances, you may be better served reading the article proper (it's a short read).

I own all the MtF books...text-only script works for me....

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Just a random thought I've had before about things like scanlations. I think I'd be plenty happy with a script to follow along with while reading an original print of MtF.

That can get tricky when following text bubbles, but here's my screwy idea. If the real issue is that the original work is being duplicated for the sake of translating it, then remove anything from the original work. What if you did a traditional scanlation, but then blanked out the illustrations? You'd be left with a book full of speech bubbles that someone desperate could probably piece together a story out of, but wouldn't contain any of the original work except the translated text.

Probably not something a lot of people would enjoy, but it might encourage people to buy the originals, since you'd need original copies to get the whole story that way. Definitely not convenient either, but you're not really doing anything legally different than asking a Japanese-speaking friend to tell you what each bubble says as you point to it.

It's just slightly more intuitive than having a script saying "Upper-right bubble: 'Blah dee blah.' Lower Right Sound Effect: 'WHOOSH!!'" Doing that probably wouldn't stop anyone from taking your words, and sticking them into a full scan of the books, but people will do that either way.

Edited by Chronocidal
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the issue is there will always be some idiot that will just re-insert the images back and then claim it as their own or worse...try to sell it....there really is no simple answer....unless you maybe do some subscription with your fanbase...where payment would be supplying proof of ownership of the original content source.....for example a pic of you with the manga and a local paper showing the date....just throwing out ideas....

I really hope you do translate Macross the First...

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Supply vs. demand. It's really that simple. We can debate "academically" but all you'll get is an academic theory. Kinda like file sharing, gay marriage, the war on drugs, etc. The world is going one way, but people are trying to go another even when the reality makes control impossible. But I'll digress before breaking the forum rules. Needless to say, if people demand - illegal or otherwise - supply will abide :)

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On the flip side of this, how many fans are we missing out on that would eventually become addicts and spend obscene amounts on Macross stuff? (As we are prone to do here)

I continue to recommend Macross DYRL and Macross Frontier to anime fans... many conversations end up with "Is it on CrunchyRoll streaming? No? Then nevermind"

It's a very difficult situation for potential new fans in the States.

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I think this discussion is side-stepping two important things:

1) the end consumer: just as important as the ethics of someone making the material available in the target language is the ethics of the consumer. I believe that Tochiro has already briefly touched on this. It can be summed up as:

a) once the material becomes officially available in the target language will the end consumer purchase the material, as well as stop providing additional copies of the unofficial translation of the material as it is negatively effecting the official release?

b) will the end consumer buy an official Japanese release of the material to supplement the unofficial translation of the material?

2) Japanese copyright law: the majority of the respondents are referencing US copyright law or other Western perceptions of copyright. Although some aspects are universal, Japan has some unique aspects. In short, the concept of copyright and derivative works. Derivative works being in a unique area of the main copyright holder holding the economic rights to the material, and the person who actually created the derivative work holding the author's or creator's copyright*. This is part of the reason why the Dojinshi industry exists in Japan.**

A translation (itself) is a derivative work, akin to a Dojinshi. However, a translation photoshopped into the speech balloons of Macross the First or overlaid as subtitles on an animation is not. On the other hand, if someone were to redraw the manga or anime, then it would be a derivative work.

So, are the people making the translation available unethical? Or the people consuming that unofficially released translation just as unethical? Are the medium that the translation is being made available violating Japanese copyright law (nevermind the copyright law of your area of residence)?

What about in situations where a translation is made available by ethical translators, but unethical consumers continue to perpetuate its free availability after an official release is made available? Or worse, an unethical third party that takes a translation and combines it with the material and releases that, thereby violating the copyrights of both the people who originally made the material AND the translator?

* This should not be taken as the actual law per se. It's a gross summary recalled from memory. Although financial copyright may be sold off, creator's copyright is inalienable. Ie: if "Totoro" was sold, then whoever owned the financial copyright gets the profits from all future sales, but if that holder releases material that Hayao Miyazaki objects to as not being in the spirit of the original work, then the financial holder has to stop, even at financial loss.

** What can't be ignored in this discussion is that the financial copyright holders also permit the existence of Dojinshi. Namely because it not only doesn't harm the sales of the material, it also acts as a kind of free advertising for it.

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Well, I've reached a conclusion. I'd like to thank those of you who weighed in on this in the thread here, via private message, or via email.

I have decided to go ahead and release very sloppy scanlations of what I already have scanned--I've taken the time to scan, crop, rotate, resize, filter, etc., so I may as well distribute that crap. But by "sloppy," I mean, "super-imposing giant black boxes over the image to post text, not bothering to double-check for errors, etc." After that, I will do text translations and only text translations.

...

On that note, does anyone have any suggestions as to how to go about doing a text translation of a manga? I'm thinking the easiest way, for me, would be to write the page number, and then the dialog like a script. Would that work well, or would it be confusing when referencing the manga itself to not know, exactly, which text belongs in which frame?

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On that note, does anyone have any suggestions as to how to go about doing a text translation of a manga? I'm thinking the easiest way, for me, would be to write the page number, and then the dialog like a script. Would that work well, or would it be confusing when referencing the manga itself to not know, exactly, which text belongs in which frame?

Break it down by (from largest to smallest):

page number

panel number

balloon number

Just remember to indicate when a panel is a 2 page splash, and don't be afraid to make notes on stuff that might be getting lost in translation.

E.g.: the pun here: http://sketchleystats.webatu.com/Trans/MCRepisode/707ABeps7.php#frontB

I also provided a definition for a term that appears as the Wasei-Eigo definition is decidedly different from the one that most people know for it. It's things like that, that you have to be careful about when translating.

Edited by sketchley
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A couple of pieces of advice:

1) figure out why are you doing translations and providing them for other people. If it's to get attention, lots of responses and earn money, then you're bound to be disappointed.

2) don't be afraid to use and/or experiment with translation resources available online - on the one hand, if you can speed up the process, you'll be more productive and probably a lot less frustrated. On the other hand, there's no point in reinventing the wheel. ;)

Some resources:

Tools (at the bottom): http://sketchleystats.webatu.com/Trans/index.php

Glossary: http://sketchleystats.webatu.com/Trans/Glossary.php It's far from complete, but it should provide a guide to Macross specific terminology (as much as I'd like an agreed set of terms for translations, it's ultimately up to you what terms you used. Just be very, very wary of using fansubs as a terminology reference.)

Edited by sketchley
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A couple of pieces of advice:

1) figure out why are you doing translations and providing them for other people. If it's to get attention, lots of responses and earn money, then you're bound to be disappointed.

2) don't be afraid to use and/or experiment with translation resources available online - on the one hand, if you can speed up the process, you'll be more productive and probably a lot less frustrated. On the other hand, there's no point in reinventing the wheel. ;)

Some resources:

Tools (at the bottom): http://sketchleystats.webatu.com/Trans/index.php

Glossary: http://sketchleystats.webatu.com/Trans/Glossary.php It's far from complete, but it should provide a guide to Macross specific terminology (as much as I'd like an agreed set of terms for translations, it's ultimately up to you what terms you used. Just be very, very wary of using fansubs as a terminology reference.)

I'm just translating to share cool stuff.

In terms of online tools... I really haven't found much. I could really use an online version of the Nelson kanji dictionary, as it can be quite tedious flipping through the book page-by-page, and I often miss the kanji I'm looking for... but I haven't found a decent alternative yet.

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I could really use an online version of the Nelson kanji dictionary, as it can be quite tedious flipping through the book page-by-page, and I often miss the kanji I'm looking for... but I haven't found a decent alternative yet.

It sounds like you haven't installed a Japanese IME (or haven't figuring out the handwritten input part of the IME Pad), or else you'd be referencing the 2 online dictionaries in the link above.
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As I said:

or else you'd be referencing the 2 online dictionaries in the link above.

To be even clearer:

use the IME to HAND WRITE the kanji you're searching for and input that into Jim Breene's.

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Oh, yeah, really. Seriously, thank you. I'm not good with kanji, so every time I translate something I'm almost constantly referencing my Nelson's. I've got the vocabularly and the grammar down fairly well, so looking up kanji amounts to about 90% of the work.

Honestly, this feels like the first week after I got glasses, and realized I hadn't really been seeing the world properly until then.

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