legal accountability of a translator for the translated content
Thread poster: Frank Szmulowicz, Ph. D.

Frank Szmulowicz, Ph. D.
United States
Local time: 07:24
Polish to English
+ ...
Feb 4

Is translator liable for the content of the translated work? Let us say, an author from country X approaches a translator in country Y to translate an article, and the translator faithfully translates it. The article appears in translation in country Y. Can the translator in country Y be sued in country Y (or even country X), if someone takes exception to its content? (I know that anyone can be sued for anything anywhere, but I am interested in the legal situation). Thank you.

 

Laurent Mercky
France
Local time: 13:24
Member (2019)
Chinese to French
+ ...
good question Feb 4

Hi

Legally speaking, a translation is only a tool to let people from other countries or languages understand the true meaning of a document.
So if you translate "I killed many people", the killer won't be you of course.
Of course, you are responsible for the "quality" of your translation, especially concerning official documents, if you "change" or "hide" the content, you will be legally suited.
Finally, if your translation quality is poor, of course your client wi
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Hi

Legally speaking, a translation is only a tool to let people from other countries or languages understand the true meaning of a document.
So if you translate "I killed many people", the killer won't be you of course.
Of course, you are responsible for the "quality" of your translation, especially concerning official documents, if you "change" or "hide" the content, you will be legally suited.
Finally, if your translation quality is poor, of course your client will be very angry, but it's another story, i guess.
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Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 05:24
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
It depends Feb 4

I think the principle to consider is whether or not the translation is indeed faithful. If the translation is faithful and the problem is in the original text, the author remains responsible. If there is an error or ambiguity in the translation that causes harm, either to the author or to other people in country Y (such as an error in a medical translation for example), then maybe the translator could be sued. Much depends on the laws in country Y and how common it is there to sue people.
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I think the principle to consider is whether or not the translation is indeed faithful. If the translation is faithful and the problem is in the original text, the author remains responsible. If there is an error or ambiguity in the translation that causes harm, either to the author or to other people in country Y (such as an error in a medical translation for example), then maybe the translator could be sued. Much depends on the laws in country Y and how common it is there to sue people.

As a certified translator I can be sued for any serious error, that's why it's mandatory to have liability insurance.


[Edited at 2020-02-04 16:45 GMT]
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Edwin den Boer
 

Frank Szmulowicz, Ph. D.
United States
Local time: 07:24
Polish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you, dear colleagues, for your responses. Feb 5

The problem here is not that the translation is wanting in any respect - it is a faithful rendition of the original and satisfactory to the author; it is that country Y does not want the book to be published because it is true and places country Y in unfavorable light. It has even passed laws forbidding such publications.

 

Miroslav Novak
Local time: 13:24
Polish to English
+ ...
honesty as responsibility vs liability Feb 5

I like the common sense approach. Basically, liability should be limited if the translator has the knowledge of the subject inferior to that of the customer. By definition, this is (practically) always the case.

Otherwise, if the translator’s knowledge equals or excels the knowledge of their customer, the pay for the translation should include a) the pay of the specialist part of the client + b) the pay for the translation + c) the pay for the awareness of the subject in the targe
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I like the common sense approach. Basically, liability should be limited if the translator has the knowledge of the subject inferior to that of the customer. By definition, this is (practically) always the case.

Otherwise, if the translator’s knowledge equals or excels the knowledge of their customer, the pay for the translation should include a) the pay of the specialist part of the client + b) the pay for the translation + c) the pay for the awareness of the subject in the target language/context. However nicely it sounds in terms of the payment, this situation is practically reserved for, for example, lawyers with actual education/practice in two legal systems or medical specialists with actual education and practice in two professional systems.
We may assume that specialists with such skills will fare much better in their respective field than in translation, which leaves the translation work to the translator

It is always amusing to me when the customer enquiries whether the translation will be ‘professional’ - meaning, of course, that the translation will shine with the professionalism of their own designers, engineers, etc. plus the same in the target language, all without a single keystroke effort on part of the customer.

No way. The translator can provide the best work possible under the circumstances - this is what I mean by common sense approach.

And the circumstances include access to specialised terminology, guidelines that regulate how this specialised terminology is actually used or modified by the customer, awareness of cross-cultural differences, the need to adjust the form of the translation to the media or intended use, and dozens of other factors.

All the above applies when the customer provides the document for translation drafted up in the perfect source language. Real fun begins when the source is far from secondary level education (which optimistically is in 50% of inquiries, irrespective of the field, status of the ordering party or the number of letters before the name of the author).

Theoretically, accurate and precise translation (aka faithful) should reflect all arrows and blunders made by the customer, just because they are part of the sub-textual context of the message. If we go this way, the translation will be perfect, the outcome for the customer potentially very dramatic, but the liability of the translator may be the matter of discussion for long years between the lawyers of the parties

To avoid this, just inform your customer that THEY need to expand their own support to your work if they really need professional, accurate translation. Which means helping with terminology, consulting unclear sentences, explaining context, providing resources, etc.

Even then, the translator can now to be liable for the substantive content of the translation. The simple reason is that the area of our expertise is language and nothing more.

Misleading the customer about ‘streamlining’, ‘optimising’ or beautifying their drafts may be costly.
Will you lose your customer when you are at this level of honesty with them? Possibly. However, I like the idea of losing a customer who would not hesitate to flood me with penalties for their own shortcomings, errors, laziness or omissions.

And I know from my own practice that customers appreciate open-text clarification of their position and possible negative consequences if they cannot ensure cooperation with the translator. In the worst scenario, they will need a plan B - but they are aware of it right from the start.

With this attitude, both parties know their limits and may do their best - under the circumstances.
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Michael Newton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:24
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
legal accountability Feb 6

In principle, no. However, I have come across some errors in an original text [a patent no less!] and have alerted the agency/end client. Several times, a very alert editor has come across an error in the original text and has pointed this out to me. Agencies generally appreciate this.
Sometimes [sic] absolves a multitude of responsibilities.


 


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