HomeAsian AmericansBritish Museum apologizes for using translator's work without pay or permission

British Museum apologizes for using translator’s work without pay or permission

The British Museum has apologized for using a translator’s work in its Chinese poetry exhibit without acknowledgment, pay or permission.

According to CNN, the museum launched its “China’s hidden century” exhibit last month, which featured 19th century Chinese works including poems by feminist Qiu Jin. Some of the translations appeared to pull directly from writer and translator Yilin Wang’s work but the exhibit did not mention Wang.

Wang told CNN they started to get messages from peers and friends about the exhibit. They tweeted about the unpermitted use of their translations on June 18, ArtNews reports.

“Um, hey @britishmuseum, it’s come to my attention that your exhibit ‘China’s hidden century’ uses my translations of Qiu Jin’s poetry, but you never contacted me for permission. Please note this is a copyright infringement! How are you going to fix this?? #NameTheTranslator,” Wang tweeted on June 18. “I think you owe me some money for printing and exhibiting my translations, @britishmuseum 🙃”

Wang also detailed the extensive work they had put in to translate Jin’s poetry fro an upcoming book.

“I want to take a moment to do some math here,” they wrote on Twitter, according to Art News. “I’m not a translator working on a handful of translations of QJ’s poetry; I’m slowly working towards a book-length translation. For this work, I have close read through all 200+ of QJ’s poems about five times.”

Wang asked the British Museum to remove all of their translations if they did not make an offer for proper compensation. The British Museum has since apologized, claiming it made a mistake.

“Across the range of our work, we make every effort to contact the owners of rights in text, images, print and digital media. This was a particularly complicated project and we recognize we made an inadvertent mistake and fell short of our usual standards,” it said, according to CNN.

“The British Museum takes copyright permissions seriously. We have been in touch with Yilin Wang directly to discuss this matter,” the museum said in a statement to the Guardian.

Wang has “condemned” the museum’s communications, calling the organization condescending.

“They are forcing me to escalate this, and I will fight you to the bitter end. May Qiu Jin’s ghost haunt you all forever.”

Over the past few years, major criticisms of the British Museum have gained traction in the public. A 2018 article from the History Channel named several countries that had asked the museum to give back artifacts it stole during its bloody colonial reign.

The museum’s stolen artifacts were also the subject of a segment on John Oliver’s show Last Week Tonight.

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