Translation into Romanian of “Theft! A History of Music”, a successful CAF-funded project

George Hari Popescu
Creative Commons: We Like to Share
5 min readSep 22, 2020


Creative Commons Summit 2019, Lisbon. Party. But first, some presentations. Lights partially out. James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins step on the scene. They will talk about their recently published book “Theft! A History of Music”, a graphic novel about lending, borrowing, copying and stealing throughout music, from Ancient Greece to modern times. James and Jennifer start captivating the audience: after Jennifer speaks, James sings a fragment of a tune. While James explains, Jennifer draws the attention towards the images on the big screen.

I was so captivated I read the book once quickly and then one more time with a more analytical eye. The story itself and the idea of telling it graphically were absolutely brilliant.

“Why not translating it into Romanian?”

That’s what I thought immediately, considering that comic books in Romania are more and more popular. The Community Activities Fund (CAF) initiative came at the right time. Whereas I translated the text, I was also able to pay a professional translator to supervise my work, with the money received from CAF. I also built a simple but effective website, where people can read and download the book freely.

I enjoyed the challenges during the translation process:

  • How can I adapt the various word plays and puns?
  • Should I translate the songs’ lyrics too?
  • Didn’t I add to too many footnotes?

The BY-NC-SA CC license applied to the book allowed me to adapt and transform the texts freely. I also adapted some of the images that contained text. The fact that the authors offered the raw drawings (without any texts in the bubbles) gave me the opportunity to re-create the work, preserving the original spirit and meaning.

This graphic novel has a BY-NC-SA license, so no profit can be made from it. But comic books are consumed easier in a printed version; the eyes travel from one square to another, following the speech bubbles, observing the characters’ reactions and admiring the art of the drawings. So I thought about asking the authors’ permission to sell some copies of the book at the production price, without making any profit. As I expected, James and Jennifer were so kind to grant me the permission.

The CAF money allowed me to print 20 copies of the translated book. I distributed some of them among friends, researchers, teachers and influencers in Romania, trying to disseminate both the story and the Creative Commons licenses. The translation was warmly welcome, so I thought it would be a good idea to print more copies. I started a crowdfunding campaign using a local platform and I raised a little more money than expected.

I was glad that some people approached me privately and asked me about the CC licenses, after they read the book. Some of them wanted to know if they can adapt and transform other CC-licensed works, the same way that I did with the book. Others were interested in searching and using CC-licensed images in their projects. There were some who suggested that I translate other graphic novels, on other subjects.

The comic book “Theft! A History of Music” is a wonderful expression of an educational resource that can be used in music schools, academia, libraries, workshops, etc. I am planning to take this project further. I already translated the book trailer into Romanian:

  • I would also like to produce 4 or 5 animations about some of the case studies in the book (the US national anthem, Kanye West vs. George Bush Jr., the story of Robert Johnson etc.), based on the drawings from the book and using additional CC-licensed images and music.
  • I am promoting the translation on a Facebook page and I am talking about it very often, with friends or on social media.
  • I am including this work whenever I have the chance (for example, in a presentation I did at the conference Mastering the Music Business).

What’s next? An animated feature film? A musical? Why not? After all, that’s the Creative Commons spirit: creating, building upon other works, disseminating freely, educating!

About this story

This article was written as part of the report for a project funded by the Creative Commons Community Activities Fund.