Fair(ish) Use: Translation of Pop Hits

In my very first post, my “yawp,” I shared that I have a BA in English Literature and Iñupiaq Language, that the name of my blog is an Iñupiaq word (pronunciation podcast coming soon, I promise), and that Iñupiaq is my heritage language. So, for my example of fair use, I decided to use one of my passions which combines my two degrees: translation.

I have been translating since I was an undergrad freshman taking first year Iñupiaq. My translations have gotten better, but I’ve still got a ways to go. I like translations because,

  1. even though I reach out to my Iñupiaq instructor for editing, it is a very solitary activity. I do it myself, and I do it in peace and quiet.
  2. I like thinking about how songs from pop culture would be said in Iñupiaq.
  3. There’s not a lot of variety of translated Iñupiaq songs. Most of are hymns. Now, I have nothing against hymns but I also have nothing against variety. One can only listen to “Iłuaqqutilluataŋa Tusaasuġnaqtuq” (“Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound”) so many times before it gets stale.

I was incredibly nervous about posting this translation for several reasons. 1) I know my translation has mistakes (I think it’s fairly solid, but it’s still got mistakes and mistakes make me self-conscious). 2) This is a copyrighted song and even though I’ve learned about fair use, I still worry that my work doesn’t fall into those parameters.

However, after careful consideration, I believe this use of a copyrighted work falls under fair use. I will explain how using the four factors of fair use.

  • the purpose and character of use
    • The purpose of the translation on this slide is to give an example of a language-learning activity. I sincerely hope that language instructors (of any language) will use this type of activity to teach their students. Value has been added to the copyrighted work because it has been translated into another language. It is not a word-for-word translation. Semantic adjustments have been made that remain true to the essence of the song, but provide a slightly different interpretation that still fits into the song structure.
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
    • This particular work is from a genre that is most successful if it gets a wide variety of exposure and interpretations. And it is those various interpretations that continue a song’s exposure without making it stale. Song covers are a popular form of interpretation.
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion taken
    • The slideshow only shows the first verse of the song. However, the entire translation is linked. Just like a parody, a translation needs the entire work to conjure up the original. In a translation, the purpose is not to take from an original work in order to pass it off as my own. Its purpose is to expand the audience, and to create a resource for language learners that they will connect to on a cultural level (both pop and Iñupiaq culture).
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market.


I have been jonesing super bad to make a music video for my translation. But in my first attempt at a rehearsal of this cover, I realized two things:

  1. how badly I need to practice singing, and
  2. how very much I dislike video-recording myself.

Plus, just the mention of the phrase ‘copyright-infringement’ still scares me. BUT….one day, I will create this music video for Iñupiaq language learners, for language teachers, and for fans of the awesome Adele.