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BlueBoard and Threats
Thread poster: xxxVadney
xxxVadney
German to English
+ ...
Jun 7, 2007

Good afternoon, everyone!

We all share the impression that when we post something truthful on a professional forum like the ProZ Agency BlueBoard that if it is true, we're safe.

Wake up! I recently posted a rating on an agency that owed a large sum of money, did not pay, did not respond to my inquiries and for all practical purposes, disappeared for 2 months. Then, when my attorney sent the agency owner a letter demanding payment, the agency was outraged and made all sorts of accusations including a very derrogatory posting about me!

Early in March and after being told that all communications had to go through my attorney, the agency started requesting positive postings to the BlueBoard and some 30 postings started to appear between March 2 and March 24.

At about that same time, the agency's representative posted at least two vituperous postings, wholly untrue, about me on two professional forums. (Did I expect them to behave differently? No.)

I then received a letter citing numerous German statutes that the agency's attorney claimed I had violated by posting on the BlueBoard and on another non-ProZ forum. The agency claimed damage to its reputation, damage to its personality, unfair competition, etc. and threatened a lawsuit if the postings were not removed immediately.

My lawyer in Germany simply said it was a sticky matter because German law was very strict when it comes to reputations and even if something is true, you may be liable if you post it.

The text of my posting, in fact, was: "Non-payment and Refuses to Communicate." And it was true!

The agency's attorney's letter also went on to say that I had not only communicated on Internet forums but also with translators who were contractually bound to his client. (I'm assuming because I asked several of the many translators who posted on the BlueBoard if the agency had requested them to post and, when several posters admitted he had, the translator also asked why I wanted to know, I explained to them why.)

Does anyone have a contract with an agency that says you can't communicate with colleagues on a bona fide business issue (like how an agency is behaving)? Has anyone heard of such a provision of contract?

Here's the text of what the agency's attorney actually wrote:
"Im übrigen hat Ihr Mandant seine rechtsverletzenden Äußerungen nicht nur in Internet-Foren verbreitet, sondern auch in direkten E-Mails an mit unserem Mandanten vertraglich verbundene Übersetzer." (Translation: Furthermore, your client [me!] published his illegal statements not only on Internet forums (meaning the translators' forums) but also in direct e-mails to translators contractually bound to our client (the non-paying agency.)

The point of this posting is, however, is to alert colleagues that perhaps the BlueBoard and non-ProZ forum or any other forum where translators exchange information on an agency may be the source of serious trouble or just simple annoyance. It may soon be that the only thing you can post is a good report because if you share a bad experience, you just might get a letter from someone's lawyer!

I'd like to know your opinions because no matter what the individual case may be, the principles involved are of grave importance to the community at large.

Kind regards,

Harold W. Vadney



[Edited at 2007-06-07 19:48]


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 15:08
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
Henry is my shepard Jun 7, 2007

... I shall not want.

I may be blue-eyed (pun unintended), but the truth is to prevail. And I do hope that ProZ will get their legal muscle activated. Heres an excellent case for proving what our membership is worth: get the attorney involved, Henry, and damn torpedoes.

Thumbs up in any case.

Oh yes, one more thing:"the agency started requesting positive postings to the BlueBoard and some 30 postings started to appear between March 2 and March 24." - if this is indeed the case, I find it obscene. It perverts the whole system of cooperation and trust, ProZ is supposed to be. Or is it not?





[Edited at 2007-06-07 20:34]


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xxxVadney
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
It's Real but What to do About it? Jun 7, 2007

Hello, Vito:

Thanks for your contribution. I appreciate your thoughts.

But this may be beyond ProZ and Henry's sphere of influence and goes to the heart of European notions of justice and fairness if what this attorney is trying to perpetrate is legit. It rather deals a mortal blow to my faith in the maturity of European legal systems to think that (1) such a perverse law should exist and (2) that it is actually being utilized to protect the guilty and to gag the victims.

While, in principle, I don't believe anything outrageously wrong was done by asking collaborators to post on the BlueBoard (caveat: as long as they are honest and not pandering to get a job or two from the requestor) the obvious underlying reasons for doing so (i.e. to garner the appearance of legitimacy and fairness by collecting kudos from alleged collaborators)were/are questionable; in other words, in order to defuse the real question of whether or not the concerned agency is dishonest or engages in unfair business practices or simply is lousy at running a business (as in not putting aside reserves to cover liabilities).

But I do agree with you, mass solicitations of positive ratings is a bit dishonest and purposely misleading and I do think that ProZ should discourage the practice if the BlueBoard is to maintain any credibility.

But the real question I hoped to broach is whether the BlueBoard or any feature like it can survive and be of any use to anyone if posters have to worry about some agency getting peeved and involving an attorney. The fact is, I am alerting the community to this very real danger. In fact, several persons have already communicated with me and confirmed that this is a real problem because they have experienced it.

Now what?

Harold



Vito Smolej wrote:

... I shall not want.

I may be blue-eyed (pun unintended), but the truth is to prevail. And I do hope that ProZ will get their legal muscle activated. Heres an excellent case for proving what our membership is worth: get the attorney involved, Henry, and damn torpedoes.

Thumbs up in any case.

Oh yes, one more thing:"the agency started requesting positive postings to the BlueBoard and some 30 postings started to appear between March 2 and March 24." - if this is indeed the case, I find it obscene. It perverts the whole system of cooperation and trust, ProZ is supposed to be. Or is it not?





[Edited at 2007-06-07 20:34]


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Patricia Lane  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 15:08
French to English
+ ...
Rewind the tape Jun 7, 2007

Harold,

At the beginning of your first posting, you stated the following:
- agency owes you a lot of money
- agency does not respond to your communications
- your attorney sends registered letter to agency
- agency posts derogatory comments about you (where?)

I am not a lawyer and I know nothing about German law. But here are some questions:

1) your profile states you are in the US.
2) what did your contract with the agency (or your GTA) provide for in case of need for conflict resolution for non payment or other issues?
3) it seems to me that the agency's lawyer is striving for a scare tactic. After all, the genesis, the "faits générateurs" were non payment, non responses, and their negative comments. Is your lawyer turning the tables on them to underscore that and launch a counter action to protect YOUR reputation?

THere are things missing here...

Cheers,

Patricia


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xxxVadney
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Rewinding the tape for Patricia ... Jun 7, 2007

Patricia, please see below: [quote]Patricia Lane wrote:

Harold,

At the beginning of your first posting, you stated the following:
- agency owes you a lot of money (Correct, 13-15,000 euros)
- agency does not respond to your communications (In September 2005 the agency received and reviewed the invoices; in October the agency admitted it did not have the reserves to pay and requested terms (promising to pay at least 500 euros each month; disappears and then two months later I get an e-mail explaining that the agency owner left Bavaria, gave up his apartment and business and went to Poland to live with his girlfriend; could not understand why I handed the account to my lawyer; started asking for discounts based on poor product and client loss two years ago! I had been working for this character for almost 4 years! And now he tries pulling this gimick!)
- your attorney sends registered letter to agency
(Correct. And in response, the agency owner demands discounts and claims loss of clients due to my poor product -- two years later and after working with me for more than 4 years and never mentioning a discount nor blaming me for loss of clients, much less unsatisfactory translations!!!!)
- agency posts derogatory comments about you (where?) Right here on ProZ and on another site for professional translators (ProZ's rules prohibit me from mentioning a competing site's name in my postings -- I already had to edit my original posting for mentioning the other site in my original message before ProZ would post it.)

I am not a lawyer and I know nothing about German law. But here are some questions:

1) your profile states you are in the US. (Yes. But I have assets and many clients in Europe.)
2) what did your contract with the agency (or your GTA) provide for in case of need for conflict resolution for non payment or other issues? (There is no contract. In fact, we were on a trust basis and I didn't even ask for P.O.s after a while. But I have all of the e-mails exchanged and archives of all corresponding jobs done for this character. Covered myself that way, at least.)
3) it seems to me that the agency's lawyer is striving for a scare tactic. After all, the genesis, the "faits générateurs" were non payment, non responses, and their negative comments. Is your lawyer turning the tables on them to underscore that and launch a counter action to protect YOUR reputation? (That's a very astute observation and my own as well. At this time I have instructed my lawyer to simply go after the agency for the amounts owed, plus interest, fees and attorney/court costs. As for the alleged counterclaim of defamation, damage to personality, unfair competition my attorney feels it's a nuisance but unfounded but nonetheless German, French and Italian law are a bit strange when it comes to reputation. I've told my lawyer to write the agency's lawyer simply stating that we don't think he knows beans about what he's threatening and to advise his client to pay up. Also, that my lawyer is not retained to respond to the counterclaims and that if they feel that they have a case, it would have to be brought in the US.

Of course, the opposing attorney still thinks otherwise ... and hence my posting.

THere are things missing here...

Nothing is missing. The point is whether or not we can post on the BlueBoard and similar boards information based on personal experience that is truthful and in good faith and not have to worry about a letter from a lawyer or even a lawsuit. If an agency does not like what a translator has said, can the agency go after the translator? If so, what good is the BlueBoard or any similar feature if we can only post the good news.

Also, if we have a contract with an agency (or rather a confidentiality agreement) does that agency have the right by virtue of that contract to prohibit translators from communicating inter se about issues of mutual interest? Or can the agency, through its lawyer, intimidate people into not commuicating by saying that they are bound to the agency by contract. Do you have any such contracts or do you know of anyone who does?

Finally, what sort of agency does these sorts of things and should they be banned from soliciting collaborators on ProZ or elsewhere?


Kind regards,

Harold


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 15:08
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
as my grandma used to say... Jun 7, 2007

no soup has ever been eaten as hot as its been cooked.

And, one important point we need to keep in mind: auditur et altera pars.

The sort-of-class-action kind of suits (reminding me of Dickens' Mr Beadle) are in vogue in Germany at the moment. I would not hyperventilate on that.

In any case, not getting my invoices paid on time is something I as a normal human being just can't take. To put it bluntly: I just hate it.

Regards

Vito


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Nesrin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:08
English to Arabic
+ ...
2 points Jun 7, 2007

- You say that "the agency started requesting positive postings to the BlueBoard and some 30 postings started to appear between March 2 and March 24".
I agree that this sounds suspicious, but I wouldn't cast doubt on the integrity of the translators who responded to the agency's request. They may just have had a better experience than yours (by the way it was very easy to google up this BlueBoard entry, and I could see that this agency also received quite a few positive postings before your entry - and a couple of negative ones).

- I have a suggestion, though I'm not sure if it's a fair one: Wouldn't it be possible to have the option, when making a BB entry, of NOT having the entry sent to the outsourcer? It would at least eliminate the fear of threats and retaliation. But of course it would also eliminate the outsourcer's right to respond.


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 15:08
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
Have a cake and eat it too? Jun 7, 2007

Wouldn't it be possible to have the option, when making a BB entry, of NOT having the entry sent to the outsourcer?


Let me quote Martin Luther "Hier stehe ich und kann nicht anders" - I stand here and cannot do any different. He did not add - "and dont tell anybody..."

Vito


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xxxVadney
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Translators' Generosity Jun 8, 2007

Hi, Nesrin:

I don't think that this has anything to do with any of the responding translators who may have posted positive ratings. In fact, I am either acquainted with some of them or they were very open about the circumstances and interested, sometimes appalled, at the situation.

Generally, most of them had little experience with the agency. Most did only small jobs and then only rarely. A couple had longer relationships with the agency but none as long as mine. In fact, in 2004, when working on a rather large job, I was in contact with a Swedish translator who was having the same problems with communications as I was and even today recalls the craziness ... ultimately he refused to continue working with the agency.

Those of us with a couple of decades under our belts in this business know that there are translators and there are translators. Some will shoot themselves in the foot to get a job others are more, shall we say, discerning. One 100 euro job over a year period that got paid promptly is quite different from a 4-5 year relationship with weekly projects and several very large projects that didn't get paid. It's rather easy to be a prompt payer when it's a question of a couple hundred euros but when it is a couple of thousand, then the problems start becoming obvious.

I'm careful with my recommendations and my kudos and even more careful when I'm asked to rate someone or to give a recommendation or testimonial. So, rather than impugn the dignity and credibility of my colleagues, let's just say that many of them had very marginal experience in terms of projects, amounts owed and paid, and/or overall experience with the agency and probably should have qualified their postings.

One of the reasons I had to contact many of them is that I don't have access to the BlueBoard entries but I do get a notification when a posting is made. That's what sent up the red flags; when I got up to 15 notifications over the period of a couple of days.

It speaks rather in favor of the generosity of the translators rather than in favor of an agency engaging in a subterfuge.

Kind regards,

Harold

Nesrin wrote:
I agree that this sounds suspicious, but I wouldn't cast doubt on the integrity of the translators who responded to the agency's request. They may just have had a better experience than yours (by the way it was very easy to google up this BlueBoard entry, and I could see that this agency also received quite a few positive postings before your entry - and a couple of negative ones).


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Patricia Lane  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 15:08
French to English
+ ...
Blue Board and such Jun 8, 2007

Hi Harold,

I am surprise we haven't heard from Henry yet on the BB issue.
He seems to be a rather cautious type and I should think that before proposing such a feature, he looked into the various risks that could stem from its use.

There are a number of such public and private lists around. If their use was so generally problematic, even respecting stringent posting regulations, we should have heard about it already....

Let's wait for Henry on that one.

My hunch is that this hoopla is just a smokescreen to divert the case from the issue: non payment, closed business, business owner having left the country.

I hope you get paid, Harold....

Patricia


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 09:08
English to French
+ ...
Is the BB really worth it? Jun 8, 2007

In any case, if such things can be and are really done on the BlueBoard, it is then entirely worthless and shouldn't be a feature one has to pay for. With all due respect, for the
BlueBoard to be a serious and useful tool as it is advertised, it would have to have at least some kind of integrity. Something really should be done about this. In fact, whoever abused of the BlueBoard in such a way should be banned from the site for life (to think they even used the very same BlueBoard to threaten and sully the victim they are accusing of having used it to threaten and sully them!) - and I am not even talking about vengeance here, just plain fairness...

[Edited at 2007-06-08 08:03]


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:08
Italian to English
+ ...
Alternative would just be to not post a comment Jun 8, 2007

After all, the rating is a "would work again" - I don't see how it could possibly be legally risky to simply vote 1 and not leave a comment.

IIRC, there have been similar threads on this issue in the Italian fora - I'll go and see if I can find the links.

OK, here it is:
http://www.proz.com/topic/42707?start=0&float=

It's very long (and of course in Italian) - essentially, the gist was that a Proz member received threatening letters from a client's lawyers (and I think, the case was actually due to go to court) after posting a comment along the lines of "haven't been paid for work done x months ago" on the BB, stating that under Italian law this is defamation of character - even if the comment is true. A long discussion then followed on whether there really was an Italian law to this effect. And the general conclusion (given that this member's experience was absolutely genuine) was that to be on the safe side, it's best not to post any negative comment at all, but to limit yourself to the WWA rating.

[Edited at 2007-06-08 10:04]

[Edited at 2007-06-08 10:05]


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 14:08
Dutch to English
+ ...
13 - 15,000 euros? Jun 8, 2007

As I would imagine this represents at least 2-3 month's income (doing a lot of work for the agency) there must have been earlier signs of payment problems, yet you decided to continue working for them anyhow? (unless of course, you were subcontracting larger jobs out)

I'm not levelling criticism at you Harold, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but just to highlight the need to others to keep a strict eye on clients, even those who are apparently tried and trusted, and not to take on further work until all overdue bills are settled.

Owner has "given up the business" - has the agency been liquidated, dissolved? Does the agency even still exist in law? Yes, it's canvassing BB entries but this may be well be under the same trading name, different entity - if owner has abandoned the business, and it's not active, he may be planning to set up shop elsewhere under the same name. I'm just mentioning things that spring to mind, you obviously know far better what's going on.

Given this and the lack of paperwork, I'd be cautious about letting your lawyers run up a bill here Harold. We lawyers have been known to do that

These defamation considerations aside (which Patricia almost certainly correctly spots as hogwash and a tactic), the prospects of return don't look overly rosy - on the face of it - and I'd hate to think you'll be further out of pocket.

These are more worrying considerations to me as a lawyer but I don't have all the details and you may have canvassed them already - if not, I honestly think you need to have a serious talk with your attorneys before incurring further costs, especially in a cross-border situation, about the actual prospects of recovery.

Good luck
Deborah


[Edited at 2007-06-08 09:44]


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Michele Johnson  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:08
German to English
+ ...
Check Bundesanzeiger for bankruptcy Jun 8, 2007

Harold, this is slightly off-topic, more related to your outstanding claims. I just wanted to recommend checking for a potential bankruptcy, either personal or of his company (if there was one, like a GmbH). I like the GBI (German Business Information) website: http://www.gbi.de/

The link to Bundesanzeiger shows personal and company bankruptcies (as well as changes, new addresses, etc.) You have to pay for the full text but searching is free, and if the search results say

Person X
Amtsgericht Y
Konkurse, Gesamtvollstreckungs- und Vergleichsverfahren, Insolvenzverfahren
(edited for those who don't speak German: bankruptcies, insolvencies, related proceedings)

or
XX GmbH
Handelsregister/Neueintragung
followed by a Loeschung in another district,
(edited for those who don't speak German: this essentially means they moved, a new entry is added with the new address, and the old entry is deleted from the register)

you have a pretty good idea what has happened or is happening. In my experience it's worth paying the EUR 3-4 for the full text if you find something suspicious. It may not make sense pursuing if you are only going to get pennies on the dollar for your claims, but I'm sure your lawyer can advise you in such a case. Also won't help much if he's flown the country, but that database is a goldmine and is definitely worth researching.


[Edited at 2007-06-08 12:35]


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 14:08
Dutch to English
+ ...
Yep Jun 8, 2007

Michele Johnson wrote:

Harald, this is lightly off-topic, more related to your oustanding claims. I just wanted to recommend checking for a potential bankruptcy, either personal or of his company (if there was one, like a GmbH). I like the GBI (German Business Information) website: http://www.gbi.de/

The link to Bundesanzeiger shows personal and company bankruptcies (as well as changes, new addresses, etc.) You have to pay for the full text but searching is free, and if the search results say

Person X
Amtsgericht Y
Konkurse, Gesamtvollstreckungs- und Vergleichsverfahren, Insolvenzverfahren

or
XX GmbH
Handelsregister/Neueintragung
followed by a Loeschung in another district, you have a pretty good idea what has happened or is happening. It may not make sense pursuing if you are only going to get pennies on the dollar for your claims, but I'm sure your lawyer can advise you in such a case. Also won't help much if he's flown the country, but that database is a goldmine and is definitely worth researching.


Exactly my concern too Michele, I'd second this Harold - this should be where efforts are directed first and foremost, if you/your attorney haven't already done so.


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