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CAIRO – 24 June 2017: In 2015, Iranian author and translator Poupeh Missaghi wrote an essay about how in Iran it is not uncommon to find dozens of translations of the same book. To support her point, she called on an article published two years earlier in the newspaper Bahar. According to Marizeh Rasouli, George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” had 31 translations, Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations” and Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” each had 20 translations and Antoine Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince” had 28 translations!
The phenomenon was not just limited to the classics and does not seem to be going away soon. This week, The Guardian reported that Khaled Hosseini’s “And the Mountains Echoed” is available in 16 different translations in the Persian market.
For years, this has been common in Iran. Not only because of the Persians’ passion for reading, but also because of Iran’s copyright laws – or rather, the lack thereof. Iran has not signed the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and instead relies on domestic laws.
The Berne Convention was adopted in the late nineteenth century and currently has 174 signing countries. For any author from any of the participating countries, this means that their work receives protection in 174 states. Protection also means that an author’s work would not be translated or adapted without the author’s permission.
Opting out of international treaties like the Berne Convention means that Iranian authors’ work is left legally unprotected outside Iran while international authors’ works are exploited in the Persian market.
John Maxwell Coetzee, a novelist, translator and recipient of the Nobel Prize, commented on this for The Guardian in 2008. “It does upset writers, justifiably, when their books are taken over without permission, translated by amateurs and sold without their knowledge,” he wrote.
Even though the large numbers of translations may spread an author’s idea, they may also jeopardize his message through unprofessional, unauthorized and unrestricted translations.
“Day by day, the number of translators and people caring about copyright is increasing,” Mahshid Mirmoezzi, who translates from German to Farsi, told The Guardian. “But the issue of copyright has plagued Iran’s literary and translation scene. It has led to readers losing their trust,” she added.
In 2015, Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency reported on a meeting between the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance and the deputy director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization as Iranian experts joined the Fifth National Conference on Literary, Artistic and Related Rights as an indication of the country’s readiness to join the Berne Convention. Two years later, Iran remains out of the Berne Convention as well as other treaties that protect copyrights.