This is a huge topic and yet a relatively simple one. It wasn’t really a problem in the old paper-based world because if you translated something that you loved, it was a private affair. You might share it with your friends or turn it in as an assignment, but it wasn’t public or published. Now that so many people are posting things to the Internet and they are being made widely available, it is critical that people understand rights and permissions so that they don’t get into trouble.
I have to admit that it is taking me a long time to really understand the process – both theoretical and practical – since I am not a translator myself. But I have been on a quest this summer to get a better handle on it so that I can advise people more accurately about their options. And this has meant talking with published translators about their experiences and their advice. Almost everyone has at least one or more bad experiences that they don’t necessarily want to share, and I don’t blame them, but if we can sluice their experiences we can get the nuggets of gold out and that would be an excellent thing.
I started out by thinking that translators needed to contact the copyright holder for permission, and so I was always careful to show people colophons and how to read them. But as one translator pointed out to me, that is really more about legalities of royalties than permissions, and the publisher is usually the gateway to permissions.
So how do you track down the right department in a publishing company and how do you make contact? On a website, you need to look for either the foreign rights department or the rights department.
Here is an example:
Look for the about page – in Japanese 会社情報
Then you will see a section called 版権・著作権・出版物.
The contact information is divided up by the kinds of rights/license requests.
Foreign rights falls here:
TEL: 03-5395-3576 / FAX:03-5395-7058
Notice that this is no form or email contact information provided for overseas users. The English link on Kodansha’s home page takes you to a brochure, but at least that provides some information. Kodansha USA – should be a good source, but at the moment (August 2020) its website only contains audio files for its Japanese language textbooks.
Iwanami Shoten 岩波書店
Iwanami makes it really easy. Click on the English page and right there is an email address for its Foreign Rights and Permissions Department. Thanks Iwanami!
Bungei Shunjusha 文藝春秋社
At the bottom of the main page is a link for all kinds of inquiries:) Scroll down until you find the section on copyright and permissions 著作権に関するお問い合わせ. Partway down you will see an email address for the Rights Business Division ライツビジネス部 mail : firstname.lastname@example.org. I heard from a friend, that it may take a few weeks to process requests because of the volume they receive, but they will respond.
In the case of Shinchosha, the 会社情報 page just gives the basic facts about the company. Instead you have to look at the very bottom of the page for the お問い合わせ page. There is a list of headings for inquiries, but nothing about overseas.
転載、教育利用などにおける小社刊行物の利用について is the section you want. It says that almost all rights are handled by these two organizations.
And for the ones not covered by these two, there is a form you can fill out to ask.