Finishing The Violet

I started reading a one-act play by Ferenc Molnár, Az ibolya (The Violet), a bit over a month ago. There are a few sentences where the grammar defeated me (I have no idea what the dative case, as in “I give the book to you“, means in the context of the verb lát, to see), but for the most part I had a clear sense of what was going on and what the characters were saying. So, yay me.

The next step is to go back to the beginning and read through it again, translating as I go. I’m not sure if this will be faster or slower than the first time through—probably slower. I think the first draft will probably take me a month or two, and I’m not sure how long polishing it will take. I do want to finish polishing it before comparing my work to the existing 1929 translation, so I can learn as much as possible from the differences. I expect errors of meaning on my part to be infrequent, although not infrequent enough. I’m more worried initially about stylistic clumsiness, but I’m fairly confident that with time and practice I can develop a good balance between fidelity to the source language text and naturalness in the translation.

I don’t often offer myself unqualified congratulations. I consistently fail to live up to my standards (or, equivalently, set standards higher than I’m capable of achieving), so I just want to repeat two words from earlier, this time with extra bonus sincerity:

Yay me.

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In Favor of Fair Use

I’m currently reading Az ibolya (“The Violet”) by Ferenc Molnár, a play that was published in 1921. It’s a bit paranoid, but I bought a copy of the first edition, which is unquestionably in the public domain here in the United States. Eventually I plan to translate it and post excerpts here on Gentleman Translator, or maybe even the whole play, and I don’t want there to be any doubt about my right to do so.

Even so, I could easily be mistakenly accused of copyright violation. For one thing, I think Molnár’s work is still under copyright in Hungary and many other countries. Also, “The Violet” was translated in the ’20’s by Louis Rittenberg, and as far as I know Rittenberg’s translation is still in copyright, even though the original Hungarian text is in the public domain. All it takes is one dumb lawyer, who thinks he represents the copyright holder for the English-language version and not a copyright holder for a version, and I could be facing a complaint.

And, of course, if I quote judiciously from Rittenberg’s translation to compare it to my own, that’s a legitimate “fair use” of his copyrighted material. Quoting small segments of his work doesn’t impair the value of his property in any way, and I think there’s obvious value both as an educational exercise and as an act of literary criticism. If his estate challenged my use of the material in court, I’m confident they’d lose.

If I cross the line and infringe someone’s copyright, they should have legal remedies available to them. But these legal remedies should only be available if I actually cross the line. An allegation alone shouldn’t be enough to take action against me, not until it’s been proven in court and I’ve had the chance to defend myself. Under SOPA and PIPA, I wouldn’t necessarily have that opportunity before this site goes down; I don’t think it’s likely that the law would end up being applied that way to this particular site, but the principle the proponents of this legislation are trying to establish deeply disturbs me.

I sincerely hope good sense prevails.