Translating the Creative Commons Licences into Arabic

The Creative Commons announced yesterday the release of the official Arabic translation of v 4.0 of the Creative Commons licence suite. I was fortunate to be a member of the translation team and I would like to share some of the lessons we learnt from doing this project.

The Creative Commons licences are legal tools that allow creators and content owners to legally make their works available for use and remixing in a way that overcomes the restrictions imposed on culture by copyright law. The Creative Commons has transformed the way creative works are legally shared as there today over a billion works licensed under Creative Commons and which can be legally downloaded and shared from platforms such as Wikipedia, Flickr, YouTube, and others. The international Creative Commons licences became available in Arabic only now, but there are already many Arabic language websites that use them including official government websites, such as Al-Meezan by the Government of Qatar, as well as non-governmental websites, such as 7iber in Jordan.

Even though a previous version of the Creative Commons licenses (v 3.0) had an Egyptian adaptation that was available in Arabic, this new Arabic translation is the first global Arabic language Creative Commons licence that is not tied to a specific jurisdiction. The need to make this Arabic translation universal made this project extremely challenging as there are 17 different Arabic-language copyright laws in the Arab World that use different terminologies for even the most basic copyright concepts. For example, the term ‘copyright work’ translates to مصنف (Musannaf) in some countries and to عمل (Ammal) in others. The same goes for other core copyright terms such as originality, reproduction, adaptation, and circumvention.

Fortunately, Arabic is one of the official languages of the United Nations, which means that international copyright treaties are adopted in Arabic. The existence of an Arabic text of an international nature provided us with a neutral authority that we can rely upon in choosing the most appropriate term for our translation. Therefore, we relied upon the text of the Berne Convention, the WCT, the Marrakesh VIP Treaty, and the Beijing Treaty as our primary authority for translating copyright terms. For terms that we could not find in these treaties, we looked at the 17 different copyright laws available in the Arab World and considered the frequency of how often a term appeared as the basis for choosing one over another.

This approach provided us with a systematic approach to translation, but it was not very easy to follow. The Arabic text of the international copyright treaties is not consistent. For example, the term ‘reproduce’ is translated as  نسخ (naskh) in Berne, Marrakesh, and Beijing, but as استنساخ (istinsakh) in the WCT, the term ‘distribute’ is translated as يوزع  (yuwazzi’) in the WCT, Marrakesh, and Beijing, but as تداول (tadawul) in Berne, and the term ‘circumvent’ is translated as تحايل (Tahayul) in the WCT and Beijing, but as تفادي (Tafadi) in Marrakesh. In some cases, there was no consistency even within the same treaty. In cases where a most commonly used term could not be identified, the translation team voted on the most favoured term and consistently used it in the translation.

Something that I found extremely interesting during this project is that certain extremely significant copyright concepts do not have a common label to identify them at all in Arabic. For example, the right of integrity, which is a right that is found in practically all Arab copyright laws, is not explicitly named as such in any of these laws except one. This probably because there is, in fact, no formal one-word label for this concept even in the Berne Convention. The Marrakesh VIP Treaty does mention this right as such, and translates it as حصانة (Hasannah), however, the majority of the members of the translation team did not feel that term would be understood as such in Arabic, and instead used the only reference found for it in a domestic Arabic copyright law (Algeria) which is سلامة (Salama).

Translating the Creative Commons into Arabic was a fun and engaging exercise, and it taught us, the contributors to the translation project, something new about the way copyright laws are drafted differently across the region.

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