TL ethics? Oh here we go again

Although this particular situation had concluded a long while back with some form of sanity, it’s started up here again: “the ethics of translation“.

Now, based on the problems exhibited by groups that translate games, allow me to define the two points that people like to stop on:

  1. “Permission” to translate the game from the game company
  2. How to prevent people from spreading the patch via torrents with ISO copies of the game

I’ll be brief. #2 is impossible to do. No matter how you want to deal with it, someone will always find a way around it, so live with it. Just leave a nice disclaimer, and turn the other way.
#1? Here’s the problem. If you wanted to care about this to begin with, you should never have translated the game, even 1% of it, to begin with, before deciding to stop and put projects on hold. If you’ve already started, you’ve already done it so finish it. Don’t stop, irritating the rest of the community claiming to look for “permission” to translate the game.

Seriously speaking, the groups that fall upon these stumbling blocks and get stuck on them period should not even translate these games to begin with. Leave it to people who are more interested in letting people enjoy the game rather than care about the so-called ethics that exist with these.

On an upbeat conclusion to this article, RadicalR’s group has taken it upon themselves to continue the translation.

For archival purposes, here is the article in question:

A question which has been occupying me for some time now is this: is it morally justifiable to release an unauthorised translation?

That it is not legally justifiable is beyond doubt. Article 8 of the Berne Convention is not ambiguous. However, it is easy enough to prove (if only by looking at the laws of oppressive states) that not everything that is illegal is necessarily immoral. Considering that the unauthorised translation of a commercial title increases sales of that title, giving economic benefit to the authors, it is easy to construct a case for the ethical nature of unauthorised translation. Sadly, it is not so easy to defend it.

The problem is that mere economic benefit does not adequately compensate someone for the unauthorised use of their property. It is naïve to expect authors to be pleased to receive a handful of sales, when the “price” for those sales is losing control of their own creation. It could even be described as equivalent to the case where a house is broken into and a sum of money left on the houseowner’s pillow: even if nothing is stolen, the owner will feel personally violated. The analogy is, of course, inexact: breaking and entering is a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment, while non-commercial copyright infringement by distribution of an unauthorised derivative work is, I believe, merely a civil offence. But it may not be so inexact from the point of view of the feelings of the victim.

I used to believe that the economic benefit outweighed the unauthorised use: it seemed logical that boosting a company’s sales, by opening their work to a new audience, was a noble goal. I began to doubt that when I started corresponding with Japanese authors, and gained an insight into their perception of the issue. It should not have surprised me to learn that they do indeed feel just as strongly about their intellectual property as about their physical property, if not moreso; one described her game as “like a child to me”. Some have even declined to grant permission for a translation, even for a work that they are giving away for free. These authors had no economic reason to do so. Piracy cannot harm them, and nor are they risking losing out on potential licensing revenue. But they may nonetheless not wish to risk having their creation spoilt, and perhaps their own reputation marred, by a translator they cannot trust to do their writing justice.

The point is that for all the rhetoric we hear about intellectual property not being real property, and about information wanting to be free, and indeed about unauthorised translation benefiting authors – for all that, an unauthorised translation holds the potential to hurt the author. (It may not. They may welcome it. But were that the case, they would be willing to authorise it, were they but asked.)

My conclusion, after many months of worry and concern, is quite simple: it cannot be considered moral or ethical to take a course of action that one knows has the potential to hurt, when one also has the means to determine easily in advance whether that will actually be the outcome or not. (Given that the course of action in question is also illegal, the fact that it is not necessarily victimless neutralises any possible argument that might support breaking the law.)

One obvious consequence of this is that the Kanon project is now on hold (in fact, it has been for some time; the partial patch was quietly withdrawn from public distribution months ago). It will remain on hold until I’ve completed my current authorised translation activities – al|together and Narcissu 2 – after which I will consider whether to seek authorisation, or merely to drop the project approach Key and see whether it is possible to gain permission for some kind of limited authorised release.

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2 Responses to TL ethics? Oh here we go again

  1. deltazechs says:

    Nice article, totally agree with you

  2. DrmChsr0 says:

    O Ry’leth?

    haeleth’s good at pulling wool over our eyes.

    Personally, I think he’s a giant pussy.