This is an open letter from our member association ATLF.
Paris, May 13, 2014
Open letter to Dean Burnett
Senior Manager, Literary Translation Programme
Dear Mr. Burnett,
AmazonCrossing recently approached members of the French literary translators’ association (ATLF, Association des Traducteurs Littéraires de France) with a view to offering them translation contracts.
We are naturally delighted in the interest in literary translation shown by AmazonCrossing (and, by extension, Amazon Publishing), yet we have been alerted by the European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations (CEATL) that certain clauses in your contracts contravene the law and professional practices in Europe, notably in France.
Since discussions between AmazonCrossing and our sister associations in Germany (VDÜ) and Italy (STRADE) have failed to resolve fundamental differences, we would like to explain once again why the conditions you are suggesting are incompatible with professional statutes in our countries:
* Copyright and publication of work: your standard contract (which, to the best of our knowledge, exists solely in English) does not explicitly assert that AmazonCrossing has acquired the translation rights to the work to be translated (regarding those not in the public domain). Furthermore, it contravenes French intellectual property law (Code de la Propriété Intellectuelle, CPI), which regulates publishing contracts in France, in so far as your contract stipulates that the translator must grant AmazonCrossing the exclusive, irrevocable, worldwide rights to the translation in every format, but imposes no obligation on AmazonCrossing to publish the resulting translation and to maintain it on the marketplace. Unlike French contracts, your proposed agreement offers the translator no recourse for recovery of the rights to his or her intellectual property should the translation remain unpublished or vanish from the marketplace.
* Moral rights: your proposed contracts, drafted under Luxembourg law, raise issues with respect to moral rights, which are of primary concern to us. Unlike French law, the law in Luxembourg permits an author ‘to assign or transfer part or all of his or her moral rights as long as doing so does not affect the author’s honour or reputation.’ AmazonCrossing’s standard contract appears to make light of moral rights in general, notably insisting that:
To the extent not prohibited under applicable law, Translator irrevocably and unconditionally waives in respect of the Translation (and any updates or revisions made to the Translation) all moral rights to which the Translator may now or at any future time be entitled. If Translator is unable to waive his/her moral rights under applicable law, Translator irrevocably and unconditionally agrees not, at any time, to assert any of his/her moral rights to which the Translator may now or at any future time be entitled.
* Payment: the rates of pay you are offering (five to twelve US cents per word, based on source text) are unacceptable in this day and age – the lower end of your scale is one-third the average rate currently practiced in France. Furthermore, when it comes to royalties, the contract excludes certain revenues (such as advertising) from the base figure, whereas others are left entirely to the whim of AmazonCrossing (subscriptions, digital packages, etc.).
* Editorial work: according to your standard contract, acceptance or rejection of the translation is done at the sole discretion of AmazonCrossing. Should the translation be rejected, AmazonCrossing is entitled to demand reimbursement of the initial 50% advanced to the translator. This clause violates French industry guidelines (Code des Usages). Furthermore, we would like to point out that editorial work on translations into French can only be done by a native-French-speaking editorial team that perfectly masters the cultural and stylistic import of the written word. So far, however, all the documents you have submitted to European translators—not only legal, but also editorial and stylistic—have been written solely in English, and are obviously aimed at an English-speaking audience (translators and readership).
In addition, your contract stipulates that translators must report twice a week on the progress of their work, submitting successive versions of their translations, which are then subject to comments. This clause not only violates the trust that must exist between publisher and translator, but also conveys a misunderstanding of how literary translation works. Translators must be able to organize their time as they wish, and must not be obliged to justify a translating decision until it is definitive, that is to say, until the final translation has been submitted.
* Confidentiality clause: Finally, since we are an association that defends translators rights’ in the legal sphere as well as in terms of working conditions and pay, we would like to point out that the nondisclosure agreement that you ask potential translators to sign, prior to any discussion, violates the very principle of negotiating a fair, even-handed contract. A contract is not a document to be taken or left as is. Translators are entitled to adopt a critical stance toward any contract they are offered, and must be free to consult colleagues and authors’ associations on points they feel are debatable.
On the assumption that you would appreciate a fuller understanding of the legal and professional context in which French literary translators work, we might suggest you consult the following documents:
* The ‘literary-translation industry guidelines’ jointly signed on March 17, 2012, by the ATLF and the French publishers’ association (Syndicat national de l’édition, SNE): Code des usages pour la traduction d’une oeuvre de Littérature Générale (http://www NULL.atlf NULL.org/IMG/pdf/Code_des_usages_2012 NULL.pdf). This document is reprinted and discussed in the Guide de la traduction littéraire (http://www NULL.atlf NULL.org/IMG/pdf/ATLF_guide_traduction NULL.pdf), published jointly by ATLF and the SNE.
* The sample contract drawn up by the ATLF: modèle de contrat de traduction (http://www NULL.atlf NULL.org/Modele-de-Contrat NULL.html).
* The ATLF’s annual survey of current rates being paid in France for literary translations: enquête annuelle de l’ATLF sur les rémunérations (http://www NULL.atlf NULL.org/Remuneration NULL.html).
* The ‘digital publishing framework agreement’ signed on March 21, 2013, by the French authors’ council (Conseil permanent des écrivains) and the SNE: Accord-cadre sur le contrat d’édition à l’ère du numérique (http://www NULL.atlf NULL.org/IMG/pdf/Communique_de_presse_CPE_SNE_8mars_2013_-_DEF NULL.pdf).
Do not hesitate to contact us should you wish to meet and discuss ways of pursuing your publishing business in France under conditions that respect the law and industry standards advocated by the profession.
Executive Committee, ATLF