Petakopadesa (Pitaka disclosure)

Again, in principle, sure. Probably the simplest would be to engage with the east Asian patronage system, find a wealthy businessperson who is willing to set up a foundation. Something of the sort is in operation in Australia, where it helps fund academic positions there.

But remember, the problem here is that at the end of the day we’re dealing with people. Messy, complicated people, who have their own ideas and values.

Now, if you find someone who shares those values and has the resources to make it happen, you’re set. If you don’t, you have to persuade them. So, that’s fine.

But here’s one of the facts to reckon with: they’re old. Like, almost all the people in positions of authority in relevant organizations, whether it’s academic bodies in the west, or temples or Buddhist societies in Asia, are going to be old. Even older than me!

Now, I’m rare, in that I have never successfully completed adolescence, and thus still convince myself i know what the cool kids are doing.

But these are actual mature, serious olds. They don’t understand the internet and all this stuff. Many of them probably get a secretary to send their emails. Japanese businesses—even tech companies—are full of fax machines, because the culture is slow to adapt. Now, that’s fine, diversity is good! And there is life outside the internet!

But actually conveying the importance of what we’re doing is not going to be an easy matter. To get people to change, you have to first convince them that something is wrong with how it is now. So how do you do that for people who really don’t understand the issues, without them losing face? Again, it’s not impossible, it’s just hard is all.


Agreed, especially the issues of dealing with aged men reluctant to disturb a status quo. Still, the effort to make a roster of texts controlled by PTS that would be worthy of release, and then negotiating for these texts, would be an interesting effort. If, however, the texts controlled by PTS are just more easily translated anew, then the effort would be hardly worthwhile. I’m just intrigued by the idea that PTS might have a death grip on certain translations that it can’t prove it controls, and to see these released into the public domain ( or better, SC) , would be very satisfying.

I think that when it comes to published texts, they could simply point to the original publication, which would contain a copyright statement. Now, that does not, in and of itself, prove that they had the right to the text, but for a respected publisher like them it would probably be good enough for a court.

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I would like to consider the path of “dhammic quasi-piracy”, making use of what is already there and finding ways around others’ greed/material interests in retaining the property of translations.

This path could make use of machine learning-based / computer-based translations being reviewed/polished by members of the Sangha.

In simplistic terms, this could be accomplished by:

  1. give in private such programs a copy of both the translated and original texts, as well a as detailed as possible reference dictionary.
  2. the program “learns” the usual / regular translations and after a couple of iterations gets a 75% good translation algorithm.
  3. the program spits a first cut of translation which is then polished by human beings who may need or not to have in hands a copy of the commercially acquired translations.
  4. the polished output is published and can be said to be completely disconnected to any existing translation.

I think that things like Microsoft Translator could handle it.

I am using it to translate things from English to Portuguese and it is working quite well. It is a pity I lack of the knowledge to see if my final translations could be fed back to the program’s guts and allow that to improve the translation engine.

What do you think?

By the way, should we set up a specific topic to talk about possible routes, options? And potentially find out we have among ourselves people smart enough to help us achieving something big?

Again, what’s the point? We’ll have good human translations of the important texts soon enough. If you want to contribute more translations, it will be faster, better, and simpler to do it the old fashioned way: learn Pali. It’s just a language, it’s not really such a big deal.

The translation engine we’ve set up, Pootle, is, so far as I’m concerned pretty much state of the art in terms of an actually useful translation software. With a previous translation as guide, a knowledge of Pali, and some time, we can do a fine job.

As for machine translation generally, it’s really just not up to the job. It’s trained on generic modern English and even then is pretty poor. You know, they’ve been trying to do this since the early 70s, I have no great hopes that it will get much better any time soon.


The point is that by setting up a formal open request for help we may be able to find out there are some really smart minds around with the interest and ability of getting us a step closer to a good machine translator. And this would exponentially improve the speed at which we get our work done.

Moreover, if such brilliant mind is able to get a machine to translate Pali the sky is the limit. I am quite sure it is just a matter of time before he is hired by Google to set up the so much anticipated babel fish! hehe

Personally, as long as I am contributing with making freely available the core Dhamma-vinaya texts translated in my native language I am happy.

I believe there is a point of defining what is essential / priority and then getting all efforts into making it accessible to everyone and handed to the Sangha to be the custodian.

I believe it was with this intention that the first compilers of what is known Pali Nikayas got their work started. As well the pilgrims and translators which contributed to the Chinese Agamas.

The only difference is that we now live in a world in which the translation can happen the other way around, from Pali to any current language.

I love your enthusiasm, and I hope I’m not being a debby downer here! If I sound like I have an answer to all your ideas, it’s only because this is exactly what I thought some time ago! We are thinking down exactly the same road.

Machine translation doesn’t work like that, I’m afraid. It starts by taking a huge corpus of tens of hundreds of millions of words that have been professionally translated in English and another language, and throwing them at each other analyzing statistical relationships. The dirty secret is that all the core corpus is English to something else. So if you translate from Spanish to Italian on Google, it goes Spanish to English, English to Italian.

The basic corpus for translation of Pali simply doesn’t exist on anything like the scale required even to do translations to English, much less any other language. As I mentioned before, people have been working on this problem since the early 70s. I doubt very much if this will be seriously possible until we have a general purpose AI of higher than human intelligence, i.e. until after the singularity.

On the other hand, it takes a few months for a human to learn a language, like, oh I don’t know, Pali for example!


Before Brexit? Forget it! :laughing:

With its ‘austerity’ agenda, the UK government has not been all that keen on funding regular public services in recent times, supporting humanities research is very much frowned upon, and the thought of subsidising niche cultural interests is just silliness.

Germany … now there is an idea.
You are talking about millions, but is that really necessary? Like you said, most of PTS materials are very obscure works and most of it (despite the copyright) can be found on the internet (but PTS is not happy about that - see below email). They can continue selling the books with a CC3 license.

They also seem to be happy for SC to use things because there is no commercial gain. Their main worry seems to be how they themselves can survive i.e. that they will not sell books any more if people can download stuff off the internet. But then again, those people who put pdf’s on the internet for free also do not have a commercial gain … so it seems to me that they also do not quite know what to do with the issue.
Herewith the email I received from them some time ago:

I am sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you. The PTS needed to discuss some copyright issues in general. As Margaret Cone’s transcription etc. of the Patna Dharmapada was published by the Journal of PTS, its copyright is with PTS. The pirating of PTS material as pdfs is a problem, as the PTS funds a lot of its support of Pali studies from booksellers. However, I am happy to let you know that you can use the text of Margaret’s Cone’s transcription of the Patna Dharmapada for as we understand that there is no commercial gain from publishing this text.

Of course this begs another question: if a sheppard in Afganistan finds some scroll of ancient text, then sells it and somebody transcribes it and publishes it in the PTS journal, then suddenly the PTS has the copyright to this ancient text??? I don’t think so. It seems to me that the copyright (if any) lies with the person who first wrote it down many centuries ago (and even that might not be correct) and because copyright expires after a certain period of time after the death of the author, all this should be regarded as public domain. If I transcribe it from one medium to another does not automatically give me the copyright.

So I think PTS needs some education as to what copyright is and then assess if they really own copyrights or not.
Is there a register for copyrights like there is for patents and trademarks?
The main motivation behind the reluctance of these organisations to part with copyright is existential fear. If we can take that away …

I wouldn’t be 100% sure that it doesn’t (at least not in the UK), I think it might count as a new work. A couple of years ago I attended a talk given by a chap from the UK’s Intellectual Property Office. I asked a question about using public domain material and he responded that if I had sourced it (in this case a C19th map) from someone / a company who had done any work to it, it would be considered a new work and thus protected by copyright law.

I’ve had a quick look on the government’s website to find a statement to that effect, and got a bit lost in links. However, did find this corroborative explanation elsewhere (the third point 3) that gives the Bible as an example.

It’s a bit of a pity that moral law and law law don’t necessarily appear to agree with one another.

Well, at least you got me smiling over the way you tried (not to mention the end result of you telling them you’ll just do a new translation) :slight_smile: The part about the tradition of asking three times and assuming silence then means consent, he he, just great. Your experience of e-mail to website to e-mail to website and having to start all over with explaining to someone else is something I’ve encountered countless times in other contexts, perfect illustration of the endless circle and futility of samasara… As you say, a lost cause, and a loss for them too, that’s the sad thing they couldn’t even begin to see.


This contradicts the UK Intellectual Property Office’s own advice:

according to the Court of Justice of the European Union which has effect in UK law, copyright can only subsist in subject matter that is original in the sense that it is the author’s own ‘intellectual creation’. Given this criteria, it seems unlikely that what is merely a retouched, digitised image of an older work can be considered as ‘original’.

c-notice-201401.pdf (96.6 KB)

This is a legal doctrine called “sweat of the brow”. It’s rejected in most jurisdictions, including the UK. A copyright comes into effect when there is the expression of a creative work. A selfie is copyright; the numbers in a phone book aren’t.

Having said which, some version of sweat of the brow has in the past been accepted in the UK, but only as applied to works under copyright. However as currently interpreted even this is probably rejected. You can never be 100% sure without a court case, but it’s extremely unlikely that any original Buddhist texts are protected by copyright laws.

It’s a bit of a moot point, however, since all or virtually all of the PTS’s original texts have in fact been released. It’s only the more recent translations that are under copyright.

In this case it is talking about adaptations, not simple republishing. This would apply to translations of the suttas, not to editions of the original text.

Thanks for the support! I find it odd—and again, this is not just Brill—how hard it is to just get a simple answer from publishers. Without wishing to read too much into this one event, the impression I get is that the whole area of rights and copyright is like an existential nightmare for them. They just freak out a bit whenever it’s mentioned.


I just ordered Ven. Nanamoli’s translation of Petakopadesa. Should be here within 10 days. 45$ us dollars. Ouch. Unfortunately I’m still not fluent enough in pali to just read it from the source and have confidence I’m understanding it.

I wish they a digital edition so we can get it instantly, easily search for terms in the bookk.

Anyone else own this work, or read it?

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=D may be that nightmare will lead some sometimes to disillusionment, and going forth. The futility and emptyness of acquisition and ownership of DIY creativity and thought.

Metta to those mired in the nightmare of copyright law.

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I found this on Scribd:


Thanks for the link. Sadly, it’s inaccessible without a paid account. And once again copyright does its job: fail to protect the income of creative workers while ensuring that no-one can read a scholarly book by a Buddhist monk, who didn’t even touch money, and who, incidentally, has been dead for over half a century. Nyanamoli’s work will all be out of copyright in 2030. Yay?


I have downloaded it for free (with some googling tricks :smiley: ). If you or others are interested, I can send the link (via private message).

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For anyone who reads Thai, there’s a very fine translation (alongside the Pali text) by the Bhūmibalo Bhikkhu Foundation. A scanned copy in six parts can be downloaded here:

Scroll down to: ๘๔. เปฏโกปเทสปกรณ์ บาลี-ไทย

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I don’t know anything about this group: could you tell us a little about them and their work?