British Museum to review permissions process after settlement

Image: British Museum (Regina Victorica)

A previously uncredited translation will be reintroduced to its exhibition as it sets out plans for new translation clearance policy

The British Museum is to review its permissions process for temporary exhibitions, after it used a translation without credit in its ‘China’s hidden century’ exhibition.

Earlier this year, Chinese Canadian translator Yilin Wang’s translations of Qiu Jin’s poetry were used by the museum without permission in exhibition materials.

Wang first took to Twitter to point out the uncredited use of her 23-line translation of Qiu Jin’s poem ‘A River of Crimson: A Brief Stay in the Glorious Capital’. Wang then launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund legal action against the museum.

Now the museum says following a settlement, it is to review the permissions process for temporary exhibitions, particularly with regard to translations, “to ensure that there is a timely and robust methodology underpinning our clearance work and our crediting of contributors going forward”.

The British Museum had previously said credit for the translation had beed “inadvertently omitted from [its] exhibition” due to “unintentional human error for which the Museum has apologised”. It took down the translation after being made aware of the missing credit

The Museum said it does not currently have a policy specifically addressing the clearance of translations and will ensure that translations are specifically addressed in its clearance policies.

It is set to complete its review by the end of this year and will implement “appropriate policies and procedures to address any gaps identified in its review”.

The British Museum said it “takes copyright permission seriously and recognises the importance of the role of translators and the value of their work”.


In a statement, Wang said the British Museum’s outgoing Director Hartwig Fischer had personally made contact with a proposal “essentially matching the reasonable terms that I had proposed to them several times before launching my legal fundraiser.”

“I appreciate that the museum has come around. It is frustrating that this did not happen until I went through all the trouble to fundraise and obtain legal representation.

Wang said as a part of the settlement, the British Museum has agreed to reinstate the translations in the exhibition, with appropriate credit and with payment, the sum of which was not disclosed.

The museum will also create a spotlight page on its website featuring Qiu Jin’s poem.

“I am glad that more readers will be able to see my translations, with credit given for the first time, and am glad that more visitors will be able to learn about Qiu Jin’s wonderful poetry,” wrote Wang.

“I hope that the British Museum follows through on their commitment to create a clearance process for translations in the future by the end of this year and to take concrete steps to ensure that the mistake does not happen again.”

Wang plans to donate at least 50% of the settlement amount to a cause to support translators of Sinophone poetry. Wang said The British Museum has agreed to make an additional payment matching their licence fee payment to enable this.