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Book project ethical/legal dilemma
Thread poster: Rachel Gorney

Rachel Gorney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 05:35
French to English
Feb 1, 2007

I have an ethical question about a book translation project. Bear with me, it’s a long story.

I’m a French to English translator based in France. In December, I was contacted by a translation agency that I had never had any contact with before. It’s a one-person operation run by a woman who I’ll call Francine. She was urgently looking for a translator for a VERY interesting and VERY well-paid book project (to be printed privately, not with a publisher).

We negotiated a rate, and Francine drew up a one-page agreement (not a proper legal contract), which I signed. She submitted her offer to the author’s assistant (who I will call Victoria). Then: dead silence. This was strange since the author had initially been in a hurry to complete the translation by early February.

Six weeks later, we finally got a response from Victoria. Apparently, the author has received another estimate from a printer that includes both the printing AND translation. This offer is more attractive, so Francine’s offer has been shelved for the time being, at least until the author negotiates an even better deal with the printer in two weeks time.

Interestingly enough, there is still no translator officially lined up for this book. My guess is that the printer hasn't hired a translator yet.

Here is my question: can I bypass Francine entirely and make my own, direct bid for the project? With no third party as an intermediary, my offer is likely to undercut the other two. I have no prior or existing professional relationship with Francine, so it’s not like I would be losing a client. The “contract” I signed contains absolutely nothing like a non-competition clause at all.

Would this be considered illegal? Unethical? If it is merely rude, I'll still do it!

Thanks for reading – kind of long and involved, I know. Any thoughts/reflections would be welcome.

-Rachel


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Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 05:35
Member
Italian to English
What did the agreement say? Feb 1, 2007

I'm a little confused about the content of the agreement you signed with Francine. What was the purpose of it?

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Claudia Krysztofiak  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:35
English to German
+ ...
There is this saying ... Feb 1, 2007

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
I may be a little old-fashioned, but I still think this is a good golden rule for many cases in everyday life. In this way I might not get every job I could, but I feel fine with it.

So decide for yourself, if you would like this to happen to you.


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Rachel Gorney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 05:35
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
agreement details Feb 1, 2007

The agreement I signed was a one page document that merely specified the time-table for the translation and how much/when I would be paid. That's it.

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Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 05:35
Member
Italian to English
Agree with Claudia Feb 1, 2007

Although bypassing Francine might not be unethical, I wouldn't do anything that might come back to haunt you later. If you do something that you yourself term "rude", you may well come to be known by that label in business circles.
I realise it's a tempting project and not an easy decision to make, but there will be other projects. Good luck.


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Elena Robles Sanjuan  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:35
English to Spanish
This translation job could be a one-off Feb 1, 2007

Dear Rachel,

Fair enough, neither the contract nor the relationship with the agency (Francine) really imply that you´re legally bound to them.
However, I would choose a potential long-term client, i.e. Francine, showing your loyalty to her, instead of a translation job for something you haven´t even seen yet or discussed properly.
On the other hand, what if the author was in disagreement with your skipping Francine and told her?. You´d lose them both, as you don´t know what kind of professional relationship they have.
I hope this helps.

Good luck!


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Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:35
German to English
+ ...
Two arguments against (at least, for me) Feb 1, 2007

First: like Claudia I would not go behind the agency's back. After all, you wouldn't even know about the job if the agency hadn't contacted you about it, so the agency has actually done something to earn its crust.
Honesty in business is important. I want my clients to be able to trust me - and I want to be able to trust them, too.

Secondly: On principle I try to avoid negative auctions (i.e. where the client says "can you do it a bit cheaper" and then "how about a bit cheaper still", and then "if you can offer a discount we are sure to get the job"). That sort of procedure doesn't do my pocket any good, nor is it good for the translator community as a whole.

I recently ceased my relationship with a client after he said "we got a cheaper bid from another translator for this job, but you can bid next time and perhaps you will get the job". Pity about the interesting work and the friendly client, but I prefer clients who want quality without haggling about the price and playing a one-sided "cheaper-than-thou" game.


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Patricia Rosas  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:35
Spanish to English
+ ...
could end up a bad deal ... Feb 1, 2007

Rachel:
The first thought that crossed my mind was that this could end up in a situation where you are working for someone who can't or won't pay you. You know nothing about the author, and while it sounds like a good deal up front, many things might go wrong. S/he might not like the translation, or s/he might run out of money, etc.

And fundamentally, I agree with the others that it would not be fair to Francine, as frustrating as that is for you.
Patricia


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Rachel Gorney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 05:35
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Points well made.... Feb 1, 2007

Thank you for all your feedback. I hadn't made an offer for all the reasons cited above, which I agree with -- good points. I will refrain from making my own bid.

It is, however, worth mentioning that Francine has been less than professional herself and now forwards me internet jokes and junk mail (my pet peeve!). I have real misgivings about working with her in any capacity in the future. But you are all right -- better be respectful and professional, so I will not step on her toes, as kooky as she seems.

The author is extremely well-known and wealthy so I don't think that his decision is based on money. I think he just doesn't want to work with Francine. That's my hunch, at least.

Thanks again.

Ethically yours,

Rachel


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 21:35
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
One basic principle Feb 2, 2007

If people ask you to translate a book without having a publisher, chances are that they are not serious and you may never get paid. When I get inquiries like that and I explain what is all involved in getting a book published, in most cases I never hear from that person again. I have one basic principle: no publisher, no translation.

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Patricia Lane  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 05:35
French to English
+ ...
Ethics, legality and reputation Feb 2, 2007

Just to add my 2 eurocents...

As has been underscored already, legally, Rachel, you faced no real impediment to seeking out the end client directly.

Each profession, however, has (or should have) its ethical standards, and I am glad to see you are not going forth with this idea.

A good reputation takes a long time to build. It rests on trust and professionalism.

A good reputation can be destroyed in a New York minute as a result of such an attempt to land a project.

Cheers,

Patricia


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Nizamettin Yigit  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 05:35
Dutch to Turkish
+ ...
Agreement Feb 2, 2007

Hi Rachel,

I just wanted to point out that the agreement you made with Francine binds you. You have an agreement that regulates your payment when te project completed. In that one page document Francine is the paying party.

Onder any circumstances you may not chnage payment path without informing Francine, because you have a standing contract. If you contact to author, he sends you job, but does not pay you, you can not claim your payment from him. Assume that you made another contract with author. Than you will be breaking the fair competition rule.

Assume that Francine has found out that you have made the translation. If She goes to court you have a lost case.

Francine is not pofessional enough. I agree with you. Other wise you would not have contact info of author until you start. But you can stil have this project. You can talk to Francine to minimize her share (as service fees) and/or you may also make a better offer.

I would not at the end take risk of having a headach but prefer to make a penny less.

Good luck!

Nizam Yigit


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