From what I understand, since George Orwell died (21 Jan. 1950) slightly over 70 years ago now, his books are now in the public domain under UK copyright law:

Type of work
Written, dramatic, musical and artistic work
How long copyright usually lasts
70 years after the author’s death

There's a bunch of translations of George Orwell's books, and I'm wondering how this change affects these translations.

Question: George Orwell died over 70 years ago: how does this affect the copyright of translations of his works?

In particular, I mulling over the idea of turning a Chinese translation of 1984 into an annotated version one could use for learning to read Chinese. I don't intend to make a profit from this, perhaps post it on a website simply to help people.

1 Answer 1


Translations are typically considered to have their own copyright protection in addition to the copyright of the original work being translated.

This means that you will have to research the copyright status of whatever specific translation you are wanting to derive from, both in the country of its publication and in your own country you intend to publish in. It is likely that any given translation of Orwell is still under copyright.

  • 2
    Derivative works, such as translations or other major adaptations, have their own copyright. Try to use any of the Disney version's fairy tale Princesses. If you change it enough, it is your own copyright. Jan 31, 2020 at 12:12
  • @Mindwin That’s clear-cut in the United States, but translations are slightly muddier in the UK. That’s why I went with “likely” in the answer.
    – Robin
    Jan 31, 2020 at 22:38
  • The main goal of small-time projects is to remain 100% out of the gray zone to entirely avoid a lawsuit. If you have a budget with less than six figures (or even more), you lost by the time you have to hire a lawyer. Feb 3, 2020 at 12:42
  • The muddiness isn’t located there, as it would be in the US. It’s muddy whether every translation is necessarily still under copyright, because it’s not as clearly automatic as in the US. It may be clear—not muddy—that a particular translation is no longer under copyright (something that would not happen in the US). Hence my advice to do thorough research on the particular translation being considered.
    – Robin
    Feb 4, 2020 at 16:32

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