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Client confidentiality / copyright issues / plagiarism
Thread poster: Helen Shiner

Helen Shiner  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:28
German to English
+ ...
Aug 11, 2009

I was recently contacted by an academic asking me to provide him with the full source and target texts of any academic article I had translated. This he said was to assess my suitability for inclusion in a team of hot-shot translators for a project about which he could not give any details.

Immediately we are in the realm, I thought, of client confidentiality, not to mention copyright issues and potential plagiarism.

Many of the articles / book chapters, etc. I have translated are out there in the world, since they have been published. That side of things is unproblematic. The source texts, however, come to me in complete confidentiality. They often also come to me partly in English - because they have been given as lectures in English - and often require heavy proof-reading, not to say editing. Often the source texts get revised or come to me in stages. In other words they do not exist as a tidy unified source text. I am used to this and quite understand the necessity for academics to work this way at times.

I discussed this approach with several of my direct clients with whom I am friendly enough and have a long enough working relationship to do so. All felt they would be very hesitant to allow the source text to be sent to anyone else, particularly since upon application the academic in question would give no further indication of the kind of project in question. He was only prepared to say that it would provide me with a lot of work in the future - potentially.

I myself have come very unstuck in the matter of international plagiarism. My MA written in English on a German subject caused waves when it was completed and 15 museums and art institutions asked to buy copies from me. Innocently and in retrospect inadvisedly, I entered into these transactions, only to find that someone got hold of my MA, translated vast chunks of it and submitted it in Germany as a PhD. Suffice to say, it is difficult to assert plagiarism when the text is translated.

In the end I offered the academic in question the excerpts of translations which I have appended to my Proz.com profile and explained that due to client confidentiality I could not send full source texts.

I would love to know how other translators would have handled this.

[Edited at 2009-08-11 09:52 GMT]


 

Celine Gras  Identity Verified

Local time: 19:28
English to French
+ ...
Target text is the problem Aug 11, 2009

Hi Helen

IMO, the problem here lies more in the target texts than in the source texts.

Someone paid for your translations, while the potential outsourcer did not, therefore isn't he trying to get them for free?
Besides, the owners of the target texts are the clients who paid for them, aren't they? Then, it is impossible for you to disclose these texts, as they do not belong to you anymore.

As I said, this is my opinion, let's see what others think.

Céline

[Edited at 2009-08-11 10:30 GMT]


 

Helen Shiner  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:28
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Target texts Aug 11, 2009

Hello Céline

In this case all relevant target texts are already in the public domain having been published and are, therefore, 'protected'. This does not apply to any of the source texts which are not published in that form.

Either way nothing could have been sent without a client's permission.

I feel that this approach may have been made by someone with no experience of using translators. Normally one is asked to submit a test translation or a list of published translations, never have I been asked to provide source texts, too.

[Edited at 2009-08-11 10:41 GMT]


 

Celine Gras  Identity Verified

Local time: 19:28
English to French
+ ...
I see Aug 11, 2009

Yes, I see your point.

Well, then, it's "client education" time! More seriously, I think there is not much you can do, apart from explaining that neither source nor target texts can be sent as proof of your skills, as your clients would not want these (sensitive) documents to be disclosed. Academic material is not like advertising material; clients do not want it to be visible everywhere.


Could you maybe offer him to translate a sample short text of his choice? Sending extracts of your work, as you suggested, is also a good idea.

Céline


 

Helen Shiner  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:28
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Solutions Aug 11, 2009

Thanks, Céline. I guess this particular individual will - I hope - have had similar responses from other professional translators. As you say, client education time... And if nothing else, I have given evidence of the importance I attach to client confidentiality!! Perhaps that was the test?!

 

Lia Fail (X)  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:28
Spanish to English
+ ...
Plagiarism of ideas Aug 11, 2009

Helen Shiner wrote:

..... to find that someone got hold of my MA, translated vast chunks of it and submitted it in Germany as a PhD. Suffice to say, it is difficult to assert plagiarism when the text is translated.



Not entirely true. Plagiarism is as much about ideas as words. That person plagiarised your ideas and failed to acknowledge his source, and on that basis you have a case.

Indeed, though, translation plagiarism is little understood or discussed, yet I come across it quite a bit.

For example, not too long ago, I encountered something similar to what you experienced. The author had copied huge chunks from another author's text in Spanish and incorporated it into his text in Spanish, which he then proceeded to produce in English, through me. When I was translating it, my research led me to the original text. As diplomatically as possible I explained that he couldn't copy someone else's ideas like that, and asked him to edit and reduce the text and cite the source, which he did.

I've also come across review articles in Spanish, hobbled together badly with series of single sentences literally translated to Spanish from abstracts in English available online. Apart from the nightmare it is to try and translate back AVOIDING the exact words of the original (and so avoiding "word plagiarism"), the author was not being entirely ethical in that it was very doubtful that he'd read the actual articles themselves. In this case, I translated, with a lump in my stomach and throat, as the whole issue was so vague (I couldn't actually say it was clear plagiarism, given the nature of the article) but I had a lot of extra work in checking every single abstract and finding the exact sentences and then trying to translate using different wording.



[Edited at 2009-08-11 12:07 GMT]


 

Helen Shiner  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:28
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Plagiarism Aug 11, 2009

Well, one can assert it, but it is difficult to prove to the satisfaction of German academia, which, at least in the case of this university in question, was only interested in what you call 'word plagiarism'. Lia, what you had to do was a nightmare. I am not sure I would agree to do that for someone, however. I really do think plagiarism should be stamped on hard.

 

Lia Fail (X)  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:28
Spanish to English
+ ...
divided opinions about translator responsibility Aug 11, 2009

Helen Shiner wrote:

... I am not sure I would agree to do that for someone, however. I really do think plagiarism should be stamped on hard.



http://www.proz.com/forum/translation_theory_and_practice/11077-when_translation_becomes_plagiarism.html

http://www.proz.com/forum/translation_theory_and_practice/130082-plagiarism:_deliberate_inadvertent_but_most_importantly_translation.html

Here are some quotes from these posts:

"if there is true plagiarism in the source text, that is not your problem"

"It's not your problem if your author has been unethical"

" it is not at all your responsibility to fix it"

"You are asked to do a job, and you do it."


I agree, Helen, but if you look at the above posts, you'll see that opinions are divided about where translators' responsibilities begin and end. I took the middle route, since I'd started the job I wasn't going to not finish it, but I certainly wouldn't want to get involved in the - at a minimum - rather dubious pratice of abetting authors who plagiarise, whether words or ideas.

When it comes down to, once - if ever - it's clarified who "owns" translations in general or a particular translation, then it will become clear whether the translator has any responsibility other than simply translating.

Apart from that there's ethics, and like you, I would avoid these sorts of situations if at all possible.


Incidentally, I had curious experiences with 2 other authors recently - which only show how little is understood of the task of translation. In one case, my role as translator was completely belittled, in the other, it was totally overstimated.

The first one changed my text (without tracking changes), after I'd gone to the trouble of building it and structuring it carefully (that's how I see it, becuase each choice in one part is affected by and affects a choice in another part: the choice of vocabulary, whether to use/remove bold, italics, etc). It was intelligible, but the syntax was faulty. I wrote and explained that although the ideas and the article were hers, the words were mine and I should at least have been consulted (through tracked changes) of any changes she made to the English.

The second one, for whom I was adapting an article I'd previously translated to take into account reviewer recommendations, sent me the article, not with the new ideas included in Spanish for me to translate, but with comments such as "Here I want to say that .....followed by lengthy explanations). I wrote to her and asked her to please not overestimate my knowledge of the field and not to treat me as if I were a co-author (!), but to write in Spanish exactly what she wanted to say to her reader.

I'm going off the point a bit, but essentially, the problem seems to be that there is no clear idea about what rights and responsibilities translators have:-)


 

Helen Shiner  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:28
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Plagiarism Aug 11, 2009

Dear Lia

Thank you very much for alerting me to those forum discussions. I will be very interested to read what people have to say on the subject.

I had not meant to sound as if I was criticising your approach. I quite understand that once you were involved with the job in question you would want to finish it. What I should have said is that I think I would alert the client to my reservations and probably not work for them again. It does come down to ethics.

I have also experienced both of the situations that you outline. The first is very annoying but probably stems from lack of experience of working with translators and perhaps worse a belief in his/her grasp of English that rather outweighs the true ability. A little knowledge ....

As an academic myself, I do find I am asked to go further than the usual remit of a translator sometimes where the field is related to my own field of expertise. If it is limited, that is fine, but if it were to go beyond that, well the client can always cite you as co-author!! That last is a joke of course. Blurring the lines can damage your reputation. Again, probably a question of lacking of experience - transferring academic methods of collaboration onto translation relationships.

I am grateful for your comments - it is reassuring to hear of others' experiences.

[Edited at 2009-08-11 15:28 GMT]


 

Lia Fail (X)  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:28
Spanish to English
+ ...
criticism? Aug 11, 2009

Helen Shiner wrote:


I had not meant to sound as if I was criticising your approach. I quite understand that once you were involved with the job in question you would want to finish it. What I should have said is that I think I would alert the client to my reservations and probably not work for them again. It does come down to ethics.



I didn't feel you were being critical, so no worries on that score:-)

I have my own personal ethics and try to abide by them, although sometimes the situation gets a bit tricky. I have alerted clients and have lost one or two potentials as a consequence (and don't regret it) and a few others have adapted their texts. Then there are the ones whose texts, if they get back to me in the future, will put me on red alert:-)

As for the second example above, of co-option as co-author, I simply feel more comfortable if I'm treated as a translator/linguistic consultant, irrespective of the field, becuase the ideas and the expression of those ideas is the author's, not mine. The English words are mine, however, following due consultation with the author, and I want to stand by them, be visible and be accountable.

So in the first case, I wouldn't want formal acknowledgement, and in the second case I would:-)

[Edited at 2009-08-11 16:20 GMT]


 

Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 11:28
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
The right thing Aug 11, 2009

Helen, when you say,

"In the end I offered the academic in question the excerpts of translations which I have appended to my Proz.com profile and explained that due to client confidentiality I could not send full source texts.",

I think you did exactly the right thing. You maintained confidentiality while at the same time offering the potential new client a few examples of your translation skills. I can't see what more they could want or expect. If anything it shows that you will treat their material with the same high standards.


 

Antony Price  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:28
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
Another take on plagiarism Aug 11, 2009

I recently undertook a translation for an academic client, who handed me a piece of work completed by colleagues in Madrid - thereby closing the door on any direct contact with the authors.

While searching for vocabulary on the Internet, I stumbled across an entire page that had been transposed from a book and placed in the new article. Pressure on academics to publish work, especially in non-English speaking countries, where published works are necessary to gain titular professorships and other university positions, can lead to such unethical behaviour.

What is the translator's responsibility under such circumstances?

I reported this to the intermediary who informed me that it would be taken up with the authors in Madrid, which I hope it was.


 

Helen Shiner  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:28
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Tina Aug 11, 2009

Thanks for your comments. I think I did the right thing, too. I thought it presented an ethical dilemma that was worth sharing with colleagues. I'm not really sure why it bothered me so much, but I certainly felt unsettled by the 'client's' attitude and insistence that he should have this material from me. The wrong client for me if he refuses to understand the professional position of a translator.

 

Helen Shiner  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:28
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
@ Anthony Aug 11, 2009

Hurrah! Yes, it is exactly this pressure that is causing increasing numbers of academics not worth the name to behave in such an unscrupulous manner. My own case was one such point. It can be hugely damaging to the victims. I just wish more was being done to expose it by academic institutions.

 

Lia Fail (X)  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:28
Spanish to English
+ ...
Ethics Aug 11, 2009

Antony Price wrote:

I recently undertook a translation for an academic client, who handed me a piece of work completed by colleagues in Madrid - thereby closing the door on any direct contact with the authors.

While searching for vocabulary on the Internet, I stumbled across an entire page that had been transposed from a book and placed in the new article. Pressure on academics to publish work, especially in non-English speaking countries, where published works are necessary to gain titular professorships and other university positions, can lead to such unethical behaviour.

What is the translator's responsibility under such circumstances?

I reported this to the intermediary who informed me that it would be taken up with the authors in Madrid, which I hope it was.


The translator's plagiarism dilemma! Very, very difficult:-)

Like Helen, I think translators need to adopt an ethical stance. If it's not acceptable for authors, it's not acceptable for translators.

As far as I'm aware, the medical world (anglo, because I don't know how things stand in other languages) is the most advanced in regard to publishing ethics, and if I remember rightly, it's the ICMJE that recommends that "all persons" who contribute to a manuscript should be named. It doesn't specifically mention translators, but read between the lines.

If we apply that principle, it makes translators visible, and once translators are visible, they are accountable. If they are named in the acknowledgements, then they too - technically - can be held accountable.

Even being invisible, however, doesn't mean we can't aspire to adopting, within reason, ethical principles.

My impression, and forgive me anyone that might feel that I'm drawing biased conclusions, is that in Spain there is a lot of pressure on academics in terms of getting their "plaza" (in Spain, most university appointments have traditionally been civil service posts), what's more, there is a lot of competition for few academic jobs, and there are very few opportunities in the private sector for "academic" types. This places academics under a great deal of pressure, as Antony points out.

My own impression of Spanish academics I have worked with is that they do not take the issue of plagiarsim as seriously as I and many of my colleagues-friends, on the basis of the kind of comments I have had back from them.

One academic, incidentally, called me up to discuss the issue - and said "you're like the CIA!".


 
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