Translation and licensing

October 24, 2010 — Leave a comment

So, Gnome Stew is looking for translators for their articles. That’s an excellent idea, since they write really good articles on running role-playing games, whether it is about dealing with player social dynamics or designing your own game. I read it regularly.

The reason I am commenting on this, though, is because I disagree with how they are going about it. I should note that I would be leaving this as a reply on that post, but they disallow comments without first creating an account there, for some reason.

First of all, I can understand that they are trying to spread their content, which I believe is valuable, into other languages. This is a good idea, and so I applaud their effort. That being said, I think they are taking too much of a traditional path towards their goal, if it is indeed to get their work translated.

I am just going to go down their points:

You need a gaming-oriented website. It doesn’t have to be 100% dedicated to posting Gnome Stew articles, but it can’t just be a forum thread, a blog about horse dongs, or a Facebook account (etc.). We’d prefer a blog for the trackbacks and a dedicated domain (yourwebsite.com, not yourwebsite.wordpress.com, for example) for longevity, but we’re flexible.

There are two points they make here. Firstly, they want to control what their content is associated with. This is unfortunate, because not only is their idea of control an illusion (it is simply prohibitively expensive to police their content), it goes against their goal. There isn’t any creator who can imagine all the contexts in which their content will be used. For example, just over a year ago I posted about role-playing, specifically about how I interacted with my gaming group, socially. I referenced an article on Gnomw Stew about the golden rule, which while being about gaming, is much more important as it relates to human relationships. If I wanted to use it as an example in German forums that are about human psychology and group dynamics, I don’t qualify under their terms.

The other part is about wanting a dedicated domain for longevity and trackbacks, which is just naive. It is like shooting for fish instead of casting your net far and wide. The part about their preference for a site that is not on wordpress.com is offensive, many people run very successful blogs there, and it really makes one wonder why they are even mentioning this at all. Do they want a translator or a site operator?

You need a track record. We have two-plus years of award-winning content for you to draw from, so we’d like to be pretty sure you’re not going anywhere and that you’ll follow through. Your site needs to have been around for a while, though it doesn’t need to be huge or well-known. “A while” = also flexible.

As if being able to translate is a common skill, especially in such a niche market (which nearly any translation request will be in). I have no idea how having two years of content correlates with them needing to be secure with the track record of who they are working with. Their caveat at the end is hollow, since they have no reason to require this in the first place. See the points above.

We’ll promote your site. Your site will be the official home of Gnome Stew articles in your language of choice, and we’ll promote it on the Stew. We’re looking for one destination per language, and at present we have someone interested in Spanish and someone interested in Portuguese.

This actually starts to make sense, they are not asking for translators, they are looking to expand their brand into other languages. I know it isn’t as intuitive as making someone “official”, but this is not the best way to use crowd-sourcing as a tool to spread awareness of your brand or content. When someone is official, they suddenly have expectations; it becomes a job. They need to find people who love translating and their content, and wants to bring those passions together. Less constraints, more freedom.

Then they have this list of legal points that just reinforce and spell out how it should be your pleasure to work with them, and they call the shots, and you are basically going to work for them.

Now, I am sure I am coloring this through a filter where I don’t trust or support the motivations of a corporation. I’m okay with that, because when you look at the bottom line, what Gnome Stew is looking for is more exposure to their publications. I can appreciate them coming together and creating a body of work, publishing on the web and in print. This post isn’t a scathing critique of their call for translators, so here comes my proposal.

Creative Commons.

I assume they have some contract with the authors on the site, since each post is individually copyrighted. If that is the case, they could choose to license all the articles under a CC license. This solves plenty of the issues I take with their constraints.

First of all, this is casting the net very, very far. When you explicitly allow others to use your content, the context barrier disappears. Let people translate in forums, on Facebook, or in the horse dong archives (their worry, not mine). The translations will make sense where they are made available, and will be linking back to you.

Secondly, you can be thorough in how you would like them to link back to you. You don’t need to make official translators to get your logo and linkage correct. Just explain how you would like attribution to work: “Please copy the code below, and link back to the original article.”

Thirdly, and only marginally related to licensing, Gnome Stew needs to let go of the timeline worry. They need a translator who has a website with years of existence in both directions on the timeline, past and future. That is ridiculous. That isn’t how the web works, that is how publishers work, and we know better. This is the internet, we can let these worries go. If they want to archive a translation, they should create the space on their site for it.

My suggestion is a Creative Commons-Attribution-Share Alike license. This license, along with clear instructions on how they want to be attributed, would do wonders for their site. It doesn’t restrict where the content is translated, and it makes it so derivative works (like translations) are under the same license, which means that they can incorporate the new content back into their site.

No Derivatives is obviously out, since that would prohibit translation, but I would also encourage against Non-Commercial. Most people are worried that their works are going to be used to profit others without any kick back, but I personally think that the Share Alike portion takes care of that. It also avoids the gray area of things like a site with ads (does that prohibit Non-Commercial content from being translated there?). You want people to spread your content far and wide, and if they choose to publish it, they are doing it either in a way that you can take advantage of (for instance, you could also publish their work due to Share Alike), or they are breaking your license.

So, why did I spend over 1,300 words talking about some gaming site and their call for translators? It is because I’ve spent so much time thinking about this, and working with clients, and I am convinced that a lot of people just simply aren’t exposed to these new ways of sharing culture. When you get over that initial insecurity that your work is going to be misappropriated and used for nefarious things, you begin to see that we have a cultural and technical network in place that celebrates creators. This network wants to protect and encourage and pay creators. They just need to loosen up and let go. ^_^

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