Some Legal Ponderings

If you look at the “Media” page, there hasn’t been much new material for 2013 and none so far for 2014. This is for one due to my university studies (graduating from my undergrad studies and starting work on an M.A.), but also because I had been working on and off on a partial translation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic novella Le Petit Prince into Ayeri for the past year, consisting of the first two chapters. I’ve long had an itch to try this, especially since Le Petit Prince has been translated into over two hundred languages already. However, it turns out that a publication of such a translation here raises some legal questions. Note: I am not a lawyer!

Saint-Exupéry went missing on a flight in July 1944, which is almost 70 years ago. Now, according to German copyright law at least,1 an author’s work becomes Public Domain 70 years after an their death, calculated from the end of the year of their passing away (cf. Urheberrechtsgesetz, articles 64 and 69, in German). However, I’ve only recently learnt from Wikipedia that

[d]ue to Saint-Exupéry’s wartime death, his estate received the civil code designation Mort pour la France […]; thus most of Saint-Exupéry’s creative works will not fall out of copyright status in France for an extra 30 years. […] Note that although Saint-Exupéry’s regular French publisher, Gallimard, lists Le Petit Prince as being published in 1946, that is apparently a legalistic interpretation possibly designed to allow for an extra year of the novella’s copyright protection period […]. (Wikipedia, “The Little Prince”)

This means that contrary to my assumptions of when I started out translating with bold enthusiasm last May, Le Petit Prince is not strictly in the Public Domain yet, though the question is whether this only applies to France or in general. Furthermore, there is an estate administration to capitalize on Saint-Exupéry’s literary inheritance by licensing any derivative works. On their Twitter, they show off fan-created artwork, but as I see it, my translation of about six pages of the original text including the images from the book may well exceed the status of fanart and the bounds of Fair Use, in spite of scholarly annotation consisting of the interlinear glossing for everything and no expressed commercial interest.

Of course, I would like to avoid getting into legal trouble if I were to publish my efforts here, especially since I’d really like to include the illustrations from the book, which really are an intrinsic part of the text. However, at least as far as German law goes, I would only be able to put my translation online in January 2015 anyway, otherwise only in 2047.

I suppose that if I really want a definitive answer, I’ll have to write to Gallimard’s licensing department. For the time being, as much as I’m sorry about it, I will not make my Ayeri translation publically available out of caution about copyright issues.

  1. I am German, living in Germany. However, since this website is hosted on an American server, the question is if German law applies at all, or possibly both American and German law.