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Open Letter to AmazonCrossing

Milan, 10th March 2018

Open Letter to:
Alessandra Tavella, editor responsible for relations with translators
Davide Radice, acquisition editor
AmazonCrossing

The ‘other’ authors’ questions

As AmazonCrossing makes its first public presentation at a nationally important Italian book fair, translators represented by Strade, AITI, ANITI and Tradinfo ask:

HOW MUCH DOES RESPECT FOR TRANSLATORS MATTER TO AMAZONCROSSING?

AmazonCrossing has always maintained that they have great respect for translators. They have stressed the fact that they print translators’ names on their book covers, which indeed is an honourable practice.

However, there is more to respecting ‘other’ authors than that.

Respect for translators means respecting their rights as authors and workers in the publishing sector, first of all the right to legitimate contract negotiations. So, we ask:

Do translators have the right to sign a contract they have negotiated with AmazonCrossing?

A genuine agreement between both parties is essential for any contract; indeed, it is necessary for a contract to be legally binding.

Does AmazonCrossing respect contract law?

The Italian copyright law (Law No. 633/41) prescribes that, in a publishing contract for a translation, rights to use the work may only be granted for fixed time periods. Italian publishers draw up contracts on that basis.

Does AmazonCrossing respect the principles of Italian law in its contracts? Does it operate as a fair competitor with Italian publishers?

When a translator is asked to sign a contract with clauses which cannot be modified, written only in English, issued only in digital format, and does not receive a signed copy from AmazonCrossing, his or her rights are NOT being respected.

When AmazonCrossing began publishing translations in Europe, CEATL (the European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations), and its national member organisations representing translators in their countries – such as Germany’s VdÜ, France’s ATLF and, of course, Italy’s Strade – wrote to AmazonCrossing pointing out these critical flaws in its contract policy, and requesting it comply with national regulations and best practice.

The first contracts AmazonCrossing proposed to European translators were unacceptable. For example, the contracts required translators: not to disclose any information relating to the agreement; to renounce their moral rights or, where this was not legally possible, to commit not to enforce those rights; to grant AmazonCrossing the right to use their translations in any way it chose, permanently, worldwide, and without any requirement that the rights would actually be used; and to agree that AmazonCrossing could accept or reject a submitted translation arbitrarily.

In 2014, following protests voiced by CEATL on behalf of European translators, AmazonCrossing agreed to engage in dialogue, and its representatives met with CEATL delegates on two occasions. After these meetings, the contracts were improved, with the most unfair clauses removed. AmazonCrossing also reiterated its commitment to continue to engage in dialogue until a satisfactory agreement was reached, since, despite improvements, critical problems with the AmazonCrossing contract remain. In particular:

  • The only way a translator can draw up a contract is by sending a pre-compiled digital version.
  • The translator does not receive any signed contract from AmazonCrossing; and one clause, which exists because AmazonCrossing may need signed paper documents at some point, obliges the translator to appoint AmazonCrossing as his or her legal representative, who will sign on his or her behalf any paper copy that may be needed.
  • The translator must give up his or her full legal rights (Jury Trial Waiver clause).
  • The contract is governed not by Italian Law, but by the law of Luxembourg. Under this law, publishing contracts can last forever, so the translator will never be able to renegotiate any of its terms.
  • There is still a confidentiality requirement, hidden in the Publication; Promotion clause, which forbids translators from making any public statement about their contracts, except for the purposes of promoting the books.

Despite its commitment to continue to engage in dialogue with CEATL, since the end of 2015 AmazonCrossing has interrupted this dialogue, and it still offers all European translators a single, non-negotiable standard contract.

Is AmazonCrossing willing to re-open the dialogue in Italy?

We hope so, and we are available to meet your representatives to discuss further developments in your publishing activities, making your contract conditions satisfactory, both in terms of legal requirements and of the profession’s recommended best practice. In Italy, there is a Protocol on Good Practice in Contracts since 2016, signed by a significant number of publishers.

Should AmazonCrossing not be available for dialogue, we will be forced to conclude that its claimed respect for translators is a façade, and that it is a publisher which, far from being a role model, is below the standards of Italian publishers, including the large publishing groups, who do not avoid legitimate contract negotiations.

Signed

for Strade: Elisa Comito (Senior contracts advisor and member of the national coordinating committee)

for AITI: Riccardo Olivi (President)

for ANITI: Tiziano Leonardi (President)

for Tradinfo: Francesco D’Arcangeli (President)

Versione italiana della lettera

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