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What is a translator?

3 min read

Understand the role a translator plays in songwriting

A music translator translates the lyrics of a musical work from one language into another.

The terms and can apply to a musical work's lyrical and musical elements. But when we speak of translators, we are referring to the role that translates only the in the musical work, hence the translation.

Under , both translations and adaptations require authorization from the original unless the work is in the , and both qualify as .

You can learn more about adaptations on our Adaptor page.

What is a Translator?

A translator translates lyrics into a different language so that a musical work can be performed or re-recorded in other countries or for other purposes, for example, Karaoke, or publication in a songbook.

A translator may use a word-for-word translation or poetic license approach, which is sometimes necessary to ensure the musical work's meaning isn't lost in the translated language.

Copyright ownership for translators

When pre-existing lyrics are translated, the translated work usually qualifies as a derivative work. The translator will co-own the in the translated work but needs authorization from the authors of the original work to translate it.

Translators are considered authors under copyright law if their contribution to the translation is . This means both they and the author of the pre-existing musical work can own a share of the in the translated work, which is called a derivative work under copyright law.

Properly documenting the translator's share of the rights is the first step for them to be credited and receive a share of earnings when the musical work is used. Learn more about this in the Songwriter Splits and Registering Musical Works topics.

Translators that have multiple creative roles

If you are a translator, you might also have additional roles when writing or recording a musical work, in which case you might also have additional shares in the ownership of that musical work and the . Find out more about how this works in the Recording topic. To understand authors' rights in more detail, visit the Music Creators’ Rights topic.

Illustration credit: Martin Fabricius Rasmussen