Difficulties with publishing a translation of a public domain work on Draft2Digital (and a solution)

By | January 12, 2018

Recently in the process of trying to publish my first book across multiple internet bookstores via Draft2Digital I ran into some trouble, and as a result ended up publishing directly via Amazon’s KDP (see here for more details).

Things did get resolved with D2D so I wanted to provide an update for anyone who might be interested in using their service.

When I first received an email from D2D customer service, they said that if my book was a translation of a public domain work, it had to be removed since it was against their policy. However, when I checked their knowledge base, it only said this:

Can I publish Public Domain works through Draft2Digital?

At this time we do not distribute public domain works.

So I countered back that their policy did not say anything about translation (this includes a few other pages on their site with similar information). I also mentioned that while my book is a translation of public domain, this does not make it public domain itself. In fact I can (and have) copyrighted it, just as if I had copyrighted something I wrote myself.

The representative responded that years back they did allow public domain works, but due to some legal issue involving a translation of a public domain work, they were generally not allowing public domain works or even translations of them. However, she said if I could provide proof that I had gained rights from the original copyright holder, they would reconsider.

Fortunately, as I mentioned in my previous post I had managed to contact the surviving relatives of the author of the original work (Juza Unno) and had an email as proof of that exchange. So I sent that to D2D along with my own English translation of it (since the email was in Japanese).

Eventually I got a response that said they would allow me to publish via D2D, though in the publishing steps I need to make sure I marked “I have gotten permission from the copyright holders”, not “this is a public domain work” or “I own the copyright” options (though technically I do own the copyright for the translation itself).

I chose just to publish to the Apple store for the time being. One of the reasons for that is that Apple is (arguably) the second most popular E-book store in the world. I also found out that you get a flat 70% from revenues (instead of Amazon which changes from 30% to 70% depending on price), which is a nice bonus. See more comparison of these two stores information here. In less than 24 hours after I did the paperwork, my book was on the Apple store (here).

In the end, though it was not fun to be told I might have to pull my book, this was a great learning experience, especially related to surprising complexities about publishing a translation of a public domain work.

I understand D2D’s point of view here: even though publishing a public domain book would likely be problem-free 99% of the time, it is that 1% where they ran into a legal issue that made it not good business sense to arbitrarily allow all public domain and public domain-derived works. The representative also mentioned that each country has different copyright laws, and it would take a large amount of resources to understand and deal with all of these.

Given the result, overall I was satisfied with the customer service D2D provided. However there are a few points I think they should work on. First is the response time, since on several occasions it has taken nearly (or over) a week to get an answer. Second is the fact that they don’t have the critical information about restrictions against public domain-derived works stated clearly on their knowledge base page. Finally, I wish they would do a check of these sorts of things before they allow books to get published; this would have saved me the inconvenience from having to remove my original release post and other related frustrations.

As a final note, while I did skim through D2D’s policies before publishing originally, I didn’t do an exhaustive read through. Had I did, I might have noticed the clause about public domain and checked with them in advance before making the attempt to publish. That would have saved some pain on my end. If you are considering publishing a public domain work or something derived from one on D2D, I highly recommend contacting their support team first. (Interestingly, as I mentioned above, on one of the publishing screens there is an option that says ‘this is a public domain work’. I haven’t tried it, perhaps it simply notifies you that the work cannot be published with them. Or maybe just flags the book for reviews.)

Also, even if you aren’t using D2D I think it’s not a bad idea to get permission from any copyright holders, even when public domain is involved. As the rep told me, the laws related to copyright and public domain are quite complicated and differ by country, so unless you are a lawyer (or are working with one) it would be challenging to have a high confidence level that you are safe. Having permission from the copyright holder gives you a trump card in your back pocket you can withdraw if you ever have any issues.

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