Agencies' right to dictate the use of reference texts
Thread poster: Sarah Downing

Sarah Downing  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:52
German to English
+ ...
Oct 13, 2005

Hi fellow translators,

I am currently faced with the following issue. I am applying to a new agency to do freelancing work as a journalist/author. Of course, the new agency asked for some reference texts. Thus, I spent a considerable amount of time picking 6 of my best and preparing them to be sent out.

As professional ethics dictates, I asked the agency for their permission to use the texts. They told me to blank out the customer names, which I did. So far so good. Then they asked me to send them the said texts before using them as references, just so that they can check if they are OK. I of course assumed that they just wanted to check that no names were divulged.

This morning the agency rang me to tell me that the person who reviewed the texts felt that some of them are too recent. I have to say that none of these texts are divulging any huge company secrets. One is for a shoe company's new collection, but with blanked out names, so this could be any shoe company. Another is for a cosmetics company. None of the companies are particularly well-known.

The agency then asked me if I could choose some older texts. I am pissed off to say the least as I spent hours hand-picking a good selection and blanking out the names. I hinted that you can be too paranoid and that I am not inclined to repeat the whole procedure, as I spent a long time selecting these texts. I am now waiting for them to ring me back.

What would interest me is does the agency actually have the right to dictate to me to this extent? I understand their need to maintain secrecy, etc. but I really feel that they are lucky that I had the courtesy to ask them in the first place, because I know many people wouldn't have. I don't like being dictated to, especially when I feel that I have kept to our agreement and not divulged anything I shouldn't have. Sometimes it seems you are punished here for actually being honest!

All comments greatly appreciated.

Frustratedly yours,

Sarah


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Daniel Bird  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:52
German to English
Portfolios in general Oct 13, 2005

Hi Sarah
I think the situation you set out describes a diligent pro doing the right thing. Taking a portfolio round to present at interview (which is essentially what you are talking about after all) is something that engineers, graphic designers etc do every day of the week, in conjunction with discussions about projects they might have carried out for current and former employers without the hint of a blush about concealing identities. No one could suggest that seeking a change of job in those circumstances would be unethical or unacceptable, so why should a freelancer be treated any differently? I don't think you're the one with the ethical dilemma, frankly. It's the agency that needs to a] examine its conscience and b] drop the ivory tower act.
If NDAs, confidentiality clauses etc are in question, then of course that's another matter. If you can choose some work that is already in the public domain anyway, then I'd say use that if you're happy enough with the standard.
And good luck by the way!
DB


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Sarah Downing  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:52
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for your comments Oct 13, 2005

Hi Daniel,

Thanks for your kind comments.

Well, this is actually a freelance position which I wouldn't be interviewed for, but the guy still wants me to send him some references. I also feel that it is a bit OTT blanking out the company names, but I've complied with this for my customer's sake. It's not so much the fact that I don't have other texts I could use, but more the principle of the whole think. Quite frankly I think it's a bloody cheek and that the agency is going too far, particularly as I spent quite a bit of time selecting the texts in the first place. Had they been concerned about me using too recent texts, they should have told me this in the first place!

The agency is due to call me later today, so I'll keep you posted on what they "decide" (although whether they even have the right to dictate to me in this manner is in my opinion dubious). I) want to do the right thing and I also value this agency as a good customer, but I don't want to let myself be bullied.

ATB,

Sarah


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Daniel Bird  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:52
German to English
The position's the same... Oct 13, 2005

...freelance or not. How can we sell ourselves except on track record, by blowing the trumpet etc? Here's hoping the agent sees it from your point of view in the end
DB


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Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:52
Member (2004)
English to Italian
Copyright Oct 13, 2005

Who owns it? I think the agency or the agency's end client if you were paid for the jobs, so I believe they can even forbid you from using the texts for such a purpose, if they wish. But I might be wrong...

Giovanni


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Pat Jenner
Local time: 08:52
German to English
+ ...
Surely they should have mentioned this when you first approached them? Oct 13, 2005

I think you have a strong case to argue that if they wanted to impose a cut-off time limit on the texts you could use they should have made this clear from the start. If you now go along with their conditions you will have to spend more time looking through older texts (which may not be as fresh in your memory) to select ones which showcase your abilities. Hope it all works out for you.

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tectranslate ITS GmbH
Local time: 09:52
German
+ ...
Depends on the contractual agreement, I guess... Oct 13, 2005

Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL wrote:

Who owns it? I think the agency or the agency's end client if you were paid for the jobs, so I believe they can even forbid you from using the texts for such a purpose, if they wish. But I might be wrong...

Giovanni


That's our stance, too. I don't like being in the way of our freelance partners' careers, but the text is not ours to begin with. Once the invoice is paid, all rights are transferred to the client (at least that's how our contracts are set up).

Here's an anecdote: I remember negotiating with a big aircraft engine manufacturer a few years back and their confidentiality clauses explicitly forbade their suppliers to even name them as a reference customer, let alone pass on any documents, translated or not.

I guess if our translators asked us for permission to use previous translations as a reference (no one ever did), we'd try to get our clients to release the rights to these documents for this specific purpose. But of course, we couldn't promise anything - it's not our decision.

Regards,
Benjamin


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Sarah Downing  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:52
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Too bloody right, Pat! Oct 13, 2005

You took the words right out of my mouth. This is exactly what I thought. This is so typical of business and has happened to me time and again - an agency or end customer telling me something different once it was too late, causing me to have to spend extra time. I hate these kind of commmunication problems and what bothers me most is that I'm the idiot who ends up spending the extra time because people are deciding to make my life difficult.

Urggghh!

Thanks to all for your solidarity!


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 09:52
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
This annoys me too! Oct 13, 2005

I have nothing in my portfolio on my profile, because I am practically certain that the agency I have done my best work for would be upset. Some of the employees would see my point of view, but some would say it was a breach of secrecy... and so far, I get plenty of interesting work anyway. I'm not sure what I would do in Sarah's position.

I wouldn't want my doctor to tell me what he had just done to any of his other patients, and I don't want him to tell them what goes on in confidence when I consult him. I trust him, and some of the documents I translate are just as sensitive as personal consultations of that type.

Once I sat chatting with a neighbour over some holiday photos, and realised that a couple they had been on holiday with had just got divorced - I had recently translated their papers! It's a small world.

On the other hand, many of the jobs I do require a particular style. Some clients ring the agency and ask for the same translator again, whoopee! - While others whisper that they really prefer the translator who did the previous job for them. I can live with it. Usually I'm not fond of those clients or their products either! When I know I can't finish a job too quickly, and it will be out on the Net as soon as it's left my mailbox, it is irritating to know there are a couple of people in high places who won't let me 'sign' my own work.

Clients and translators do have to find each other - it takes all sorts to make a world, and clients have a right to form an idea of the person they're employing, just as we know who our clients are.

I keep planning to find some 'public' text and translate it without a client... But haven't had time yet!

Best of luck with the job!


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Sarah Downing  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:52
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Copyrights Oct 13, 2005

Obviously I am aware of this copyright stuff, otherwise I wouldn't have had the courtesy and circumspection to ask my customer in the first place, but if they're going to establish such restrictions and not even tell me about them before I start selecting texts, I quite rightly am annoyed about my waste of time.

Basically, I have complied with their request to blank out all names, so the customers aren't identified anyway. In addition, the texts they are complaining about in no way contain confidential details.

If this is people's stance with regard to translated texts, I might as well forget ever trying to further my career again. Obviously I have no rights whatsoever to my intellectual property and am forced to kowtow to the agencies' whims, be they reasonable or not.

I do respect copyrights and confidentiality clauses, but I just wish people would be reasonable and fair, because that is what I am trying to be and I am dependent on these darn texts in order to be able to put together a successful application.

Between a rock and a hard place,

Sarah


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Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:52
Member (2004)
English to Italian
Rock and hard place... Oct 13, 2005

Sarah Downing wrote:

Between a rock and a hard place,

Sarah


Looks like it, unfortunately... It's the nature of our job. We sell our intellectual property for money and then we have to beg our clients in order to be able to use what we created in the first place. Sad, but true.

Giovanni


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Tsu Dho Nimh
Local time: 01:52
English
What does your contract say? Oct 13, 2005

Sarah Downing wrote:

What would interest me is does the agency actually have the right to dictate to me to this extent?

Sarah


Did you sign a "NDA" (non-disclosure agreement) for any of the texts? In the USA, if there was no NDA and no clause in a contract obliging you to keep text a secret, I can show my recent work to prospective employers.

Another guideline ... is the translated text publically available? Even my normally employers should have no problems with showing text that has been available to the general public.


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Sarah Downing  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:52
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for your comments Oct 13, 2005

Did you sign a "NDA" (non-disclosure agreement) for any of the texts? In the USA, if there was no NDA and no clause in a contract obliging you to keep text a secret, I can show my recent work to prospective employers.

No, of course I didn't sign an NDA for any of these - otherwise, it would be pretty obvious that I'm not allowed to use them. There's no restrictive contract either - just the main stuff about customer secrecy.


Another guideline ... is the translated text publically available? Even my normally employers should have no problems with showing text that has been available to the general public.

[/quote]

There are six texts in total and I specifically chose ones that are publically available. In short, the agency is just being slightly difficult, but hopefully I'll get it sorted.

My gripe is not that I'm not allowed to use their texts - I am because they even gave me their permission - it's just that they seem to think they can pick and choose for me although I didn't sign an NDA for any one of these.

Thank you very much for your comments.

Sarah


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