Tuesday 11 September 2012

Fifty Shades translated: moral (rights) concerns?

Original language Fifty Shades trilogy
After finishing reading the entire Fifty Shades trilogy while sunbathing (and getting sunburnt) at the seaside, this blogger was left wondering the same questions which have made many other readers of EL James's books in non-English speaking countries sleepless. 

One of them is: if a work has not been translated accurately, and the meaning is therefore altered, have the author's moral rights been infringed? This issue may be particularly relevant when the original text is meant as a pun or to have a meaning which can be understood just by those who possess some background information. The latter is the case of the titles of EL James' books.
As most of you will know, the hero of the Trilogy is absolutely realistic character Christian Grey, a clearly hot and fashionable 27-year-old self-made man who makes $100,000 per hour, and is also a skilled piano player and keen sailor. 
The title of the first book (Fifty Shades of Grey) is word-game between Christian's surname and his nickname, which is "Fifty Shades" (it is Ana Steele, the 22-year-old heroine, who calls him this way, after he has tried to send her away because he thinks it is too problematic to have a relationship with her. He indeed admits to being "fifty shades of f****d up". 
The titles of the other two books do not require much explanation. They are Fifty Shades Darker (as this is the book in which some of Christian's dark secrets are revealed) and Fifty Shades Freed (as this is the book in which Christian manages to overcome his traumas).
This blogger's fellow nationals who live in the lovely boot-shaped country in the Mediterranean Sea can buy the translated versions of EL James' works if they want to. However, the manner in which the titles of the books have been translated is rather perplexing. 
Italian-translated Fifty Shades trilogy
They are Cinquanta Sfumature di Grigio (this is a plain literal translation of the title of the first book, and "Grey" is intended to be the colour grey); Cinquanta Sfumature di Nero ( "fifty shades of black"), and Cinquanta Sfumature di Rosso ("fifty shades of red"). Does this translation make any sense? Probably not, if one knows what the actual meaning of the titles is and is aware that the books are not about a painter.
Although no criticisms have yet been made to how EL James's books have been translated into Italian, it may be interesting to discuss whether EL James could object to inaccurate translations of her works. 
The writer (real name: Erika Leonard) is British, so the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA 1988) is likely to apply.
Section 80 CDPA 1988 provides that, among the other things, the author of a literary work has the right not to have his work subjected to derogatory treatment. 
What EL James's books
are not about
The treatment of a literary work is defined as any addition to, deletion from or alteration or adaptation of the work, other than a translation. According to well-known commentary by Laddie, Prescott and Vitoria, "the exclusion of translations from the definition should be confined to true and accurate translations, as it is difficult to see why an author should not be able to object to a translation which murders his work or distorts its meaning" (4th edn, 2011, Vol I, 664, referring to 1987 French case of Zorine (Leonide) v Le Lucernaire, in which an author successfully prevented the public performance of his play in a translation and in a production which seriously distorted the original meaning). 
This said, the treatment of a work is derogatory if it amounts to distortion or mutilation of the work or is otherwise prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the author.
As is well-known, under UK law moral rights can be waived. However, the waiver may be conditional and may be made revocable, pursuant to Section 87(3) CDPA 1988. It would be interesting to see how EL James's publishing contracts were drafted and what kind of control the writer has retained over her books. What do you think? In any case, it is unlikely that control-freak Christian Grey would be pleased with all the changes which have contributed to rendering the meaning of the titles "lost in translation". 
Derivative works are important!
So: who do you think should play Christian Grey?
Because of its success, the Fifty Shades trilogy is indeed a great source of inspiration for all IP lovers. 
Trademark lawyers can speculate about all the possible Fifty Shades merchandising - the latest example of which being the Fifty Shades soundtrack which has just been released. 
Copyright enthusiasts may engage in endless discussions as to the legal implications of fan fiction (the Trilogy actually originated as a fan fiction based on the Twilight saga, as you can read here), moral rights and translations, and now also derivative works. The film version of Fifty Shades of Grey has already been announced, although the cast has not been released yet. Since derivative works are of paramount importance to copyright (and are relevant to the topic of moral rights, too), the 1709 Blog has carefully reviewed the actors rumoured to be in the run for the role as Christian Grey and decided to ask its readers: who do you think should play Christian Grey? You can cast your vote until midnight next Tuesday, 18 September and choose among sensitive and most likely to play Christian Ryan Gosling; blue-eyed White Collar star Matt Bomer, no-longer 27-year-old but still much admired Bruce Wayne/Christian Bale; successful and intriguing Shame's Michael Fassbender; and UK-born and forthcoming new Superman Henry Cavill.  The poll can be found at the top of the 1709 Blog's side bar.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, Eleonora. Made me giggle. 22 year old heroin? That would **** you up. How about heroine?

Eleonora Rosati said...

Haha, indeed! Thanks Anonymous!