I was thinking about a translation of a book that is in the public domain. The author is Adam Smith. There is already a French translation of some of his works. Does this mean that I cannot publish my own French translation? Does the existence of a French translation preclude the creation of another? Do I have to use a language that it isn't translated into?

  • I read part of the French version of The Wealth of Nations by this French publisher. I thought their translation was like paraphrasing more akin to translating his ideas rather his original words. Perhaps they did that because it is difficult to understand his original work, even for many English speakers. I just thought that someone should have translated the original more faithfully.
    – Icer Box
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 15:54

3 Answers 3


Can you think of other cases where there are multiple translation of the same book into the same language? If you search Amazon for classics in one language, do you find multiple translations into other languages? (Try the Divine Comedy or Beowulf or the Iliad -- or the Bible.) What do you find?

  • I haven't searched Amazon. I searched the World Catalog and Apple iBooks. There were multiple translations. "Recherche sur la nature et les causes de la richesse des nations, La Richesse des nations, les oeuvres de Adam Smith, which are the same books with different publishers and translators
    – Icer Box
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 15:46
  • 2
    So there is your answer.
    – user16226
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 15:48
  • Not necessarily. They were not direct translations. So far I haven't found a faithful translation. The books seem to be paraphrasing. I thought that there might be a reason for that.
    – Icer Box
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 15:57
  • 2
    That is not what your question asks, though. If that is your question, you should edit it to make that clear.
    – user16226
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 15:59
  • 1
    A very socratic answer, @MarkBaker :)
    – FraEnrico
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 7:21

Public domain books are no longer under copyright protection and can be used by the public as they wish without fear of copyright infringement. There are classical books that have multiple translations to the same language. However, before starting such a project, I would suggest that you ensure that your translation would be an improvement in some way from the original translation.


Yes, you can.

As stated by others, public domain works - by definition - don't pose limits to uses and reuses. As long as you don't use other translations' solutions or passages (i.e. you don't copy other translations, which would infringe the copyright of the translation, but not of the original work) you're fine.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.