In English there is a phrase, "poetic licence". This means that the author's statement is not strictly true, but has been exaggerated or embroidered a little for the sake of dramatic effect. A similar term is "artistic licence".

For example, the English sentence "The filmmakers used a bit too much artistic licence" (i.e. they deviated a bit too far from the original storyline).

I tried translating it directly, to something like "Die Filmemacher benützten künstlerische Lizenz" (or "poetische Lizenz") but is there a more idiomatic translation?

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    Direct translation is appropriate here but you chose the wrong translation for “license”; in English the word has several meanings but not all of those are translatable as “Lizenz” in German. Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 13:58
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    Note the regional difference in usage between benützen and benutzen. Related: german.stackexchange.com/q/38554
    – moooeeeep
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 14:48
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    Leo has a prepackaged answer, so I vote for closing.
    – guidot
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 15:09

3 Answers 3


I think "poetic license" and "artistic license" are best translated as "dichterische Freiheit" and "künstlerische Freiheit". Those phrases literally mean "poetic liberty" and "artistic liberty" and are fairly common in German to express what you referred to in your first paragraph.

Some possible translations for

The filmmakers used a bit too much artistic licence


Die Filmemacher haben etwas zu sehr von ihrer künstlerischen Freiheit Gebrauch gemacht


Die Filmemacher haben sich ein bisschen zu viele künstlerische Freiheiten genommen.

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    Since one literal translation of “license” is in fact “Freiheit”, “dichterische/künstlerische Freiheit” are literally translated as “poetic/artistic license”, no need to change the English wording to get a literal translation. Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 13:57
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    @KonradRudolph I disagree. Can you please give a few examples? 'Licence' might in some restricted meaning or in a figurative sense be used as a translation for 'Freiheit', but I doubt as a general or literal translation.
    – jarnbjo
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 16:57
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    @jarnbjo definition, noun, meaning 2; there’s not really room for interpretation. It’s its literal meaning, and its original etymology (although I’m the first to clamour that etymology ≠ contemporary meaning). Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 17:03
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    @Konrad Rudolph: Künstlerische Freiheit is the right translation for licentia poetica/artistic license. The original etymology of license is not the same as Freiheit, though. Freiheit is a possible translation for Latin licentia, but licentia has moral connotations that Freiheit does not have, e.g., Zügellosigkeit or Willkür. If you translate a German text to Latin, you would rarely choose licentia for Freiheit. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 8:47
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    @Frank I agree with all these things but I don’t understand how they pertain to the discussion. One literal translation of “license” is “Freiheit”, and it is exactly the right one in this context. Both “license” and “Freiheit” have multiple distinct meanings (many if not most words do), and their primary meanings differ. But the sets of their meanings overlap, and the overlap happens exactly where we need it. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 9:43

The idiom is "künstlerische Freiheit(en)", like this:

Die Filmemacher haben sich die künstlerische Freiheit genommen, die Handlung zu verändern. (neutral)

Die Filmemacher haben sich etwas zu viele künstlerische Freiheiten erlaubt. (negativ)


The German equivalents to this phrase are usually

"dichterische Freiheit" and
"künstlerische Freiheit" resp.

So the example would be "Die Filmemacher nutzten die künstlerische Freiheit …".


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