What to do with plagiarism?
Thread poster: Annabelle Larousse

Annabelle Larousse  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 15:41
French to English
+ ...
Sep 26

Hello, Folks!

I wasn't sure where to post this question, so I'm putting it here. And I'm sure this topic must have come up before, but I don't know where to look for it. Perhaps somebody could help me out there.

At any rate, the other day I had a short, little text to translate, hardly 200 words. But I felt I needed to do a bit of background research on it, and once I did that it quickly became obvious that a bit of this text was plagiarized. I say, a bit: one phrase and one sentence. Where these bits originally came from I'm not sure--perhaps Wikipedia. But it's the type of stuff that gets passed around, copied to one article after another. I found it in several places on the net.

So I wasn't sure what to do. I was working for an Agent who was representing the ultimate Client, and so I don't know who actually wrote the article to be translated--possibly the Client himself or one of the Agent's staff. Either way, I thought that if I raised the matter, it would cause some embarrassment, either for the Client himself, whom I would not want to embarrass, or for the staff member, who I might perhaps get in trouble.

So eventually I decided to say nothing at all. For one thing, I'm just the translator. But also, I thought this was a small thing, and there's not likely to be any comeback on it. So maybe it simply wasn't worth making trouble over. If it were a bigger case of plagiarism, then I suppose I would have to query it.

But I was just wondering if anybody else had any ideas on this. I'd be interested in hearing others' thoughts.

Thanks,
Annabelle


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DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
Whistler: good deeds never go unpunished Sep 26

Unfortunately, I also encountered a similar dilemma when both the translator and the client were friends of mine, working under a commercial offer. Yet when I found a couple of familiar pieces without quotations, I used several online services just to make sure and--viola! That's how I lost five friends and a contract...

Now I seem to be more experienced)


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Angela Rimmer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:41
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
A few considerations... Sep 26

Perhaps it would help if you define what you consider plagiarism.

In any case, especially since the text was so small, you could not be sure you were seeing the whole work -- if you are only being given a small section of a larger work, who knows what that contains (maybe a citation?), or who even knows if that section you translated was even meant for publication or wider distribution (the client wants to fully understand a foreign source in something they are researching?), or who even knows if the client is claiming or intending to claim to be the author or originator of the "plagiarised" bits?

I mean the possibilities really are endless and unless you have the full picture you can never be sure. Which is why I, personally, would refrain from making any accusations if I were in that position as the translator. Maybe, if it looked like unintentional plagiarism -- or in the cases that I generally come across, it is usually a quote or something that is incorrectly attributed -- I might raise it in the form of a query to the client (e.g. "I found this quote attributed to Y and not X. Is this a mistake in the source text?")

But I don't translate published books so maybe it is something that is more of a serious ethical concern for translators working on full works which are scheduled to be published.


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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:41
English to Spanish
+ ...
Plagiarism and citations Sep 27

I agree that a 200-word text to translate may be a small segment of a much larger body of work (a book, manual, draft, essay?). We are not given much to go on here. So, what's the topic of this 200-word text?

What made you think from reading the text that it would be something proprietary, exclusive or a work of literature?

As for citations, a 200-word citation is a bit much. According to APA and MLA guidelines, citations are far shorter, from what I recall.


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Annabelle Larousse  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 15:41
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Reference to a mythological character Sep 27

I obviously haven't explained things well enough, so I'll elaborate.

The 200-word text I had was a description of a manufacturer's product. On the whole it was sound, perfectly original. Now, it did refer to a mythological character, and it was in reference to this character that I found a phrase and a sentence that had been borrowed from another source--and again I'm not sure what that original source was.

So, there was no problem with the text as a whole, only this one phrase and sentence describing this mythological character.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:41
Member (2008)
Italian to English
still unclear Sep 27

Annabelle Larousse wrote:

I obviously haven't explained things well enough, so I'll elaborate.

The 200-word text I had was a description of a manufacturer's product. On the whole it was sound, perfectly original. Now, it did refer to a mythological character, and it was in reference to this character that I found a phrase and a sentence that had been borrowed from another source--and again I'm not sure what that original source was.

So, there was no problem with the text as a whole, only this one phrase and sentence describing this mythological character.


It's still unclear what the problem was, but since you say you were working for "the ultimate client", you're right to be careful. I wish I were working for the ultimate client.


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Annabelle Larousse  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 15:41
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Better to be cautious Sep 27

DZiW wrote:

Unfortunately, I also encountered a similar dilemma when both the translator and the client were friends of mine . . .


This was another consideration. I've worked fairly closely with both the agent and the client here, and so I decided it was better to be cautious. It was a small thing, but maybe it could stir up a bit of trouble.


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 08:41
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Plagiarism? Sep 27

There may be many other mentions of this mythological character on the web. Who knows whether the author of your piece really 'borrowed' it from somewhere or if it was his/her original thought. If indeed clearly borrowed from somewhere, it might need a citation but on the whole, I think it is premature to suspect plagiarism from this short piece alone.

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Aleksandra Muraviova  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 20:41
Member (Jan 2017)
Japanese to Russian
+ ...
Meme, maybe? Sep 27

Annabelle Larousse wrote:

I obviously haven't explained things well enough, so I'll elaborate.

The 200-word text I had was a description of a manufacturer's product. On the whole it was sound, perfectly original. Now, it did refer to a mythological character, and it was in reference to this character that I found a phrase and a sentence that had been borrowed from another source--and again I'm not sure what that original source was.

So, there was no problem with the text as a whole, only this one phrase and sentence describing this mythological character.


Now, this is just my assumption, but.
From what I get from your post, this product description you've been translating might be a text which your client would then use to promote this product, is it not? If it is, then this phrase might not be an example of plagiarism, but a meme. I derive my conclusion from these words:

Annabelle Larousse wrote:

Where these bits originally came from I'm not sure--perhaps Wikipedia. But it's the type of stuff that gets passed around, copied to one article after another. I found it in several places on the net.


If the source was unclear and not quoted in any of the cases you've encountered during your research, then maybe it's a product of modern internet folklore (a.k.a. meme).

It's hard to say it for sure without seeing the text itself, but I can see how this is possible. Now that you know that the phrase is frequent, what is its common context? Is it usually presented as a phrase to which everyone would nod knowingly? Is it catchy? How strong is the connection between the phrase and the character? Is the character him/herself popular? Does the phrase refer to any notion/phenomenon aside from the product and character?

However, all this becomes relevant only if my assumption about the nature of the text was correct. If it's totally unrelated to marketing and advertising, then we're back to plagiarism, I guess.


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:41
Spanish to English
+ ...
What plagiarism? Sep 28

Just the other day, I read an article the gist of which was that plagiarism does not exist and that nothing is truly original. I remember thinking "tell that to George Harrison", who I believe had to stump up compensation for (subconsciously or otherwise) plagiarising an earlier tune with his single "My Sweet Lord".

Nine times out of ten, I don't really think this type of thing is worth mentioning. However, when translating, revising or editing academic papers, I sometimes notice that the authors have lifted large swathes of text verbatim from other works, and on a couple of occasions I have mentioned that perhaps they should cite the sources. They usually take it quite well, as this sort of thing is rife, apparently.


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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:41
English to Spanish
+ ...
Plagiarism at university and academic level Sep 28

neilmac wrote:

Just the other day, I read an article the gist of which was that plagiarism does not exist and that nothing is truly original. I remember thinking "tell that to George Harrison", who I believe had to stump up compensation for (subconsciously or otherwise) plagiarising an earlier tune with his single "My Sweet Lord".

Nine times out of ten, I don't really think this type of thing is worth mentioning. However, when translating, revising or editing academic papers, I sometimes notice that the authors have lifted large swathes of text verbatim from other works, and on a couple of occasions I have mentioned that perhaps they should cite the sources. They usually take it quite well, as this sort of thing is rife, apparently.


I remember reading a paper on plagiarism at academic level (journals, papers, etc.) across cultures while I was working at a Tampa hospital (as a translator, not a patient). In some countries, China for instance, copying text without attribution is seen as a sign of respect or prestige towards the author, not as an act of intellectual theft.

I'm afraid I no longer have this enlightening and informative article or the source, though.

I wouldn't go as far as to claim (like the article you read) that nothing is truly original. Philosophically speaking, that may be true, and not just in terms of academic achievements or scientific breakthroughts or research. Just consider pop songs; I don't recall Madonna suing others for lifting riffs or phrases off her songs, but that's what Taylor Swift and her ilk are doing these days.

As I understand it, plagiarism has a narrow definition that we need to check every time we are faced with a possibility that someone is using someone else's written work without authorization or attribution.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:41
Member (2008)
Italian to English
He's so fine Sep 28

neilmac wrote:

Just the other day, I read an article the gist of which was that plagiarism does not exist and that nothing is truly original. I remember thinking "tell that to George Harrison", who I believe had to stump up compensation for (subconsciously or otherwise) plagiarising an earlier tune with his single "My Sweet Lord".


He plagiarised the wonderful Chiffons "He's so fine". Unforgivable.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJu25SgxsrY

HOWEVER

There's a fine line between straight, shameless plagiarism, and "being influenced" by someone else's work (or many of the colonial houses in the United States could be dismissed as "Palladio knock-offs").

If you accurately translate a document that had previously been translated by someone else, it is likely that your translation will be very similar to the other one. How could it not be? That wouldn't be plagiarism.

At the university where I (used to) teach I used to have great fun spotting essays that were obviously too well-written, and finding the originals online.

The most notorious, indeed infamous example of plagiarism, which was used to plunge the world into a series of wars from which it may never recover, was done by Jack Straw and his "dodgy dossier".

http://ind.pn/2hzaNns

[Edited at 2017-09-28 13:06 GMT]


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Annabelle Larousse  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 15:41
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Not a terribly common "meme" Sep 28

Aleksandra Muraviova wrote:
Now, this is just my assumption, but.
From what I get from your post, this product description you've been translating might be a text which your client would then use to promote this product, is it not?


Yes, you've understood this correctly.

If it is, then this phrase might not be an example of plagiarism, but a meme. . .

If the source was unclear and not quoted in any of the cases you've encountered during your research, then maybe it's a product of modern internet folklore (a.k.a. meme).


I'd more or less go along with this. I found the phrase/sentence in various places, so, as I said, it seems to be one of those things that has been passed around, and I don't know where it originally came from. Call it a "meme" if you like, I'd be OK with that. I wouldn't say it would be terribly well-known as a meme, though.

In any case, I decided it wasn't an important enough matter to raise with the client. I would say, though, if I were writing something myself, I wouldn't borrow something like this without attributing it to the source--provided that I could find out what that source was.


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Inga Petkelyte  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 15:41
Lithuanian to Portuguese
+ ...
What's your role? Oct 1

I still somehow don't get the issue here.
Our role, as translators, is to translate and not make assessments of the source text.
When translating, I am very clear about what I am in relation of the task in my hands and tend to separate distinctly my 'linguistic' knowledgw from the knowledge in the field.
Therefore, I wouldn't even bother mentioning the issue to the client - it's simply not up to me, as a translator!
P.S. Who could deny that the whole text is being translated with the objective to expose its author?


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Annabelle Larousse  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 15:41
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
That was the question Oct 2

Inga Petkelyte wrote:

Therefore, I wouldn't even bother mentioning the issue to the client - it's simply not up to me, as a translator!


I agree. I eventually decided that it wasn't up to me as the translator. If the question was, what was my role, then this little issue wasn't for me to resolve.


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