Advice - Translation

Translators are an undervalued bunch. We fear that the rates they can command are affected by the fact that people who have never done a serious translation have no idea what it is they do, or that it often requires as much intellectual effort as it took to say or write the thing in its first language.

The law, though, does recognise their effort, in theory. A translation is a copyright work just as much as the original is. The difference is that there are two copyrights (or two sets of authors' rights) in translations: those of the original author and those of the translator. Translators should ensure that their client is responsible for securing the permission of the original author, where needed, to make the translation. Anyone who wants to use the translation needs the permission of both the orginal author and the translator.

Software packages are getting better at producing rough first drafts; but producing a finished translation is and always will be an exercise involving an understanding of the cultures behind the source and target languages. Clients may need to be reminded that if there were software that could produce a publishable translation, it would by definition be capable of doing their job as well.


A few journalists also do interpretation of spoken language. This is a quite different skill to translating written material, and if anything requires a more thorough understanding of the source language and the cultures associated with it. Simultaneous interpreters insist on strictly limited stints between rest breaks - on strong health grounds.

Public Lending Right

Translators of books are entitled to a share of Public Lending Right payments and need to register with Public Lending Right UK to be sure of receiving this: see Rights and why they are important.

More advice and links...
* On negotiating for translation
* Uploaded 09/06/2323: if you have a printout, check the current version at
* Rates for the Job good, bad and ugly
* Join the NUJ to get individual advice & representation

Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. The collection (database right) © National Union of Journalists. Comments to please. You may find the glossary helpful.

The National Union of Journalists must not, can not and would not wish to dictate rates or terms of engagement to members or to editors. The information presented here is for guidance and as an aid to equitable negotiation only.

Suggestions apply to contracts governed by UK law only. In any event, nothing here should be construed as legal advice.