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Plagiarism - deliberate and blatant - translator's responsibilties
Thread poster: Frank van Thienen

Frank van Thienen  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 22:09
Dutch to English
Aug 19, 2010

I have just finished translating a Master's thesis and would like some advice about the ethics of this situation.

To make a long story short, this thesis is largely a copy of another thesis written a few years ago by someone else at a different university in the same country. And this copy includes much of the body of the text, the table layout, most of the numbers in the tables, statistical values reported in the text, and the conclusion is also 80% verbatim.

Some of my client's "research" is original, but IMHO this is minimal.

There is no mention of this "other thesis", either in citations in the report, nor is it listed in any list of references or bibliography.

From a business perspective, I've had some misgivings about this client from the start, and have arranged - and received - full payment.

Regardless of any other decision, I'm going to insist on anonymity - I do not want my name mentioned in relation to this thesis in any way, shape or form.

From a scientific ethics perspective, although I have a background in research, I am now strictly a translator and have no "scientific standards" or "professional ethics" I need to adhere to in that field.

From a translator ethics perspective, what is my responsibility in this?

1. Do I ignore this?
2. Do I suggest to my client that she cite text properly?
3. Do I tell my client that her thesis is an abomination and that she should be ashamed?
4. Do I report this to her prof/institution? (whose name I have)
5. ??

Any thoughts on this?

Frankicon_smile.gif

PS I've read an earlier discussion (2009) about a similar situation, but believe this is one step beyond. The earlier discussion:
http://www.proz.com/forum/translation_theory_and_practice/130082-plagiarism:_deliberate_inadvertent_but_most_importantly_translation-page2.html


 

Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 08:09
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
Don't raise any concerns Aug 19, 2010

Since you have already accepted full payment, it would be decidedly unethical to raise any sort of concerns to a third party. Simply distance yourself from the fact this plagiarism existed. As you say, you are not bound by any research ethics, but you are indeed bound by your agreement with your client, be it written or oral. Betraying clients is not professionalism.

As regards making a personal comment to your client: you are free to do so, but why would you? Don't you think he/she knows?icon_wink.gif

This is my personal opinion only.

[Edited at 2010-08-19 23:25 GMT]


 

opolt  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:09
English to German
+ ...
Quite a conundrum Aug 19, 2010

But personally I wouldn't ignore it.

I understand you became aware of the plagiarism in the course of your own research, i.e. only after you agreed to translate the thesis.

If that is the case, on the one hand you don't have much choice -- if the file has been delivered to your client already, it probably can't be undone.

To a limited degree, you might compare your situation to that a lawyer: the latter has a responsibility, and even the legal obligation (AFAIK) to defend his client -- even if he knows he's dealing with a mass murderer. However, in private terms, the lawyer may also tell his client what he thinks about him, in moral terms. At least once in a while -- in certain situations.

That is to say, you are a professional translator, and as such you are just a "go-between". It happens all the time that you are translating stuff which is not 100% identical with you own beliefs, standards, and thoughts.

OTOH, just like any human, acting against one's own beliefs doesn't make too much sense -- in the bigger picture or long term anyway, IMHO. In your case, apart from insisting on anonymity, I see absolutely no problem in telling your client, politely but firmly, that you think his thesis constitutes a clear case of plagiarism, and that you believe that this is unethical behaviour. Just make absolutely sure it can't be misconstrued as a threat, or even as a form of blackmail. -- He will thence be warned that his fraud was rather easy to discover even by a "layman", and might even be ashamed more than he cares to admit.

In any case you might still want to consult a lawyer, in order to check whether in your jurisdiction the mere knowledge of these violations of law (because they are: copyright issues, academic fraud, misappropriation of title and potentially illegal practice, etc.) has any legal implications for you as a translator (I don't think so, but still). Because from your description, it seems the fraud will be discovered anyway in the not-too-distant future. You should be prepared for that situation.

Anyway this is just my very personal opinion.


 

Julian Rippon
Local time: 06:09
Japanese to English
Get legal advice before worrying about ethics Aug 19, 2010

Leaving ethical questions aside for a moment, if by submitting her thesis your client is committing a crime, and if your actions in translating the document could be construed as aiding and abetting her crime, particularly since you were aware of the plagiarism, then you obviously need to tread very carefully. That will depend on the laws of the country in question.

You state that you will insist on anonymity. That's probably a good idea, but I certainly wouldn't rely on that to protect you from any legal or other challenge that might be made by the author of the original thesis. You should assume that if asked, your client will provide your details. Furthermore, you can't very well claim that you didn't know about the plagiarism now that you have posted this question!

If you have even the slightest concern that your actions may be considered illegal, then you should obtain legal advice as soon as possible. You can probably get a first opinion free or at a very reasonable rate over the internet - lots of law firms offer such services.

I would only really start worrying about the ethics once you know that you are legally in the clear.

From an ethical point of view, it is really up to you, your conscience and your "values". If you are at the whiter than white end of the values spectrum, you should probably return the payment, and explain to your client that during your research for the translation you have discovered a previously published thesis that gives you reason to believe that her thesis was not entirely original work. Since you are a values-based translator (sorry for the America-speak!) you are not willing to provide a translation.

OK, you have wasted a few weeks of work, but your conscience is clear.

Unless you are training to become a KGB informant, I can't see why you would want to inform the institution; even the most extreme conscience should be satisfied by suggesting to the client that she consider revising the thesis, and leaving it at that.

On the other hand, even if it turns out that both the client and the translator are acting illegally, this would not necessarily be considered a problem by someone whose values are at the opposite end of the spectrum. It could even be considered a good opportunity for a bit of blackmail!

So, in short, my own personal opinion is that you should take legal advice first, then look inside yourself to decide where you sit on the values spectrum.


 

Frank van Thienen  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 22:09
Dutch to English
TOPIC STARTER
legal implications Aug 19, 2010

opolt wrote:
To a limited degree, you might compare your situation to that a lawyer: the latter has a responsibility, and even the legal obligation (AFAIK) to defend his client -- even if he knows he's dealing with a mass murderer. . . .


Maybe that's not a good comparison, as the lawyer's legal obligation is to defend, not to "attack".
I don't think (or hope) that I have the obligation to defend my client.

opolt wrote:
In any case you might still want to consult a lawyer, in order to check whether in your jurisdiction the mere knowledge of these violations of law (because they are: copyright issues, academic fraud, misappropriation of title and potentially illegal practice, etc.) has any legal implications for you as a translator (I don't think so, but still). Because from your description, it seems the fraud will be discovered anyway in the not-too-distant future. You should be prepared for that situation.


I hadn't thought about the legal implications, but I suspect the only "legal" infraction would concern the copyright law. Academic fraud is an institutional rule AFAIK.
So if this breaks a law (a non-criminal law to be precise), do I have an (ethical?)obligation to report to the authorities?

opolt wrote:
Anyway this is just my very personal opinion.


and I thank you for thaticon_smile.gif


 

Frank van Thienen  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 22:09
Dutch to English
TOPIC STARTER
I can't ignore this Aug 19, 2010

Mikhail Kropotov wrote:

Since you have already accepted full payment, it would be decidedly unethical to raise any sort of concerns to a third party. Simply distance yourself from the fact this plagiarism existed. As you say, you are not bound by any research ethics, but you are indeed bound by your agreement with your client, be it written or oral. Betraying clients is not professionalism.

As regards making a personal comment to your client: you are free to do so, but why would you? Don't you think he/she knows?icon_wink.gif

This is my personal opinion only.

[Edited at 2010-08-19 23:25 GMT]


Thanks for that Mikhail, but even though I listed "ignore it" as one of my options, I don't believe that is a good choice.

I am personally leaning towards option 2 or 3, wondering about 4.

Frankicon_smile.gif


 

opolt  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:09
English to German
+ ...
Lawyer vs. translator Aug 20, 2010

Frank,

Frank van Thienen wrote:

opolt wrote:
To a limited degree, you might compare your situation to that a lawyer: the latter has a responsibility, and even the legal obligation (AFAIK) to defend his client -- even if he knows he's dealing with a mass murderer. . . .


Maybe that's not a good comparison, as the lawyer's legal obligation is to defend, not to "attack".
I don't think (or hope) that I have the obligation to defend my client.


You are right of course. It doesn't make any sense the way I expressed it. -- What I actually wanted to say is that a lawyer is expected -- obliged? -- to act in the interest of his client. And to a degree this can be a model for the translator -- maybe even more so for the interpreter. But only to a degree.

As to the legal implications -- I really don't know. The only thing I know is that in some countries, not reporting serious crimes (not your case) is in itself a violation of the law -- often with limited exceptions for lawyers, medical professionals, priests, etc.


 

Frank van Thienen  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 22:09
Dutch to English
TOPIC STARTER
50 original words - wow! Aug 20, 2010

opolt wrote:
... in some countries, not reporting serious crimes (not your case) is in itself a violation of the law ...


I've put out some feelers for legal advice, because the more I think about this, the more it looks like a hornet's nest, rather than a can of cute little innocent worms.

In the meantime I've used the MSWord "compare documents" function and determined that a little better than half the body of this thesis is from another thesis, much of the remaining text, even that with "citations" was pasted from other literature, verbatim and "en bloc", leaving about 50 original words from this "author".
Total word count (without index and references) is 12,200.

Makes me sick. How did I get into this mess?

Frank


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:09
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
What I would do Aug 20, 2010

I would also discuss this with a lawyer so that, whatever you decide to do, you don't get yourself into trouble.

However, since you have already delivered and received payment for this job, all you can do now is write a formal registered letter to the address of your customer declaring that in the framework of your research for the translation job you discovered what seems to constitute plagiarism of another thesis (indicate the author, date, and title of the other thesis) and that you expressly disclaim any responsibility and reject to cover any damages that may arise now and at any future time as a consequence of legal action by the author of the original work or any other interested party.

It would be lovely to let the author of the original thesis know about this situation if you knew how to contact him/her, but as a translator you cannot do that in my opinion as you owe confidentiality to your customer, the plagiarist, even if you don't have an NDA with him/her.


 

xxxOlaf
Local time: 07:09
English to German
Maybe both authors are identical? Aug 20, 2010

I know that this is a long shot, but if the writer of the original thesis was also a female, your current client might have changed her name and is now trying to get a degree in that name.

 

Clare Barnes  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 07:09
Swedish to English
+ ...
Tell the client and do number 4 Aug 20, 2010

I have been involved in a similar case, but where the institution paid me for doing the proofreading (and I was employed by the university at the time). I had no qualms whatsoever about reporting what I found, and received no criticism at all for doing so. I agree that we have professional ethics and should have strict confidentiality, but at the same time, what your client has done is theft.

Informing the author of the original paper is not going to be particularly helpful at this point, as the thesis currently being proofread is presumably unpublished and thus unavailable to those outside the institution.

The original author(s) certainly spent many hours working on their own research, using up their own research budgets and receiving proper recognition for it. What your client has done is to steal other people's hard won intellectual property and claim it as his/her own in an attempt to win recognition which he/she clearly does not deserve. This is a Master's thesis - not a high school homework essay.

If I were you, I would inform the client of what you have discovered, offer to return the fee, stop working and then inform the institution. I would have a hard time wrestling with my own conscience otherwise (speaking as somone who has worked within universities and with the proofing of academic papers for the last fifteen years).

My final point is that it may well be your client's research budget paying for you to do the translation, but that will almost certainly have come from the institution. When you work with an agency, is it the PM who pays you or the agency? AND you cannot now forget that you know this thesis is plagiarised; personally, I would not want that on my conscience.




[Edited at 2010-08-20 06:54 GMT]


 

Arianne Farah  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 01:09
Member (2008)
English to French
Professors use fuzzy software to root out cheaters Aug 20, 2010

So I believe the problem will take care of itself.

Yes, you have translated the Thesis into another language but my guess is that the statistics and bibliography will be enough to trip the software.

Conversely, professors are usually up to date in their field and if the original thesis has been published online (where you found it) they are sure to have read it. Did you translate from Dutch to English or English to Dutch? Also, Masters students usually have a close relationship with their advisor and the difference in writing styles (the student's vs. yours) will be a BIG tip-off.


Or if your professional sense of ethics is still feeling violated but you don't want to put yourself in the middle and you don't mind being a little underhanded you can send an anonymous e-mail (use a service like http://send-email.org/) saying that you wished to tip off the University that one of the thesis they are about to receive was copied verbatim and then translated to hide the crime. You don't have to mention that you are the translator, or the name of your client or even the subject of his or her thesis. Just send a friendly head's up.

It always amazes me when students plagiarize - I used to teach French in a high school and it was an automatic fail if I found text that had been copied & pasted. It's so blatant! Intro in second-language French Canadian followed by body in verbose and beautifully written European French, lol....


 

Krzysztof Kajetanowicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 07:09
English to Polish
+ ...
your role? Aug 20, 2010

Frank van Thienen wrote:

opolt wrote:
... in some countries, not reporting serious crimes (not your case) is in itself a violation of the law ...


I've put out some feelers for legal advice, because the more I think about this, the more it looks like a hornet's nest, rather than a can of cute little innocent worms.



That's strange. Why do you want to know as much as possible about this alleged crime if this knowledge is possibly placing a legal burden on you? After all:

- you're by no means obliged to investigate whether or not the work is original,
- once you have found out it's not original for sure, you're possibly facing a legal dilemma.

So why bother? In order to change the world?

Second of all, I agree with Julian that this is first and foremost a legal issue. But the issue may be more about confidentiality than failure to report a suspected crime. In my country, the only crime you're obliged to report is murder.


In the meantime I've used the MSWord "compare documents" function and determined that a little better than half the body of this thesis is from another thesis, much of the remaining text, even that with "citations" was pasted from other literature, verbatim and "en bloc", leaving about 50 original words from this "author".
Total word count (without index and references) is 12,200.


Just can't help but wonder why you've got the time to do this. I know, plagarism stinks, even if it's widespread among to-be graduates preferring parties over research. But it's not like you're witnessing rape, and the more you get sucked in, the more angry you get (and confused as to what to do next), so what's the point?

[Edited at 2010-08-20 07:08 GMT]


 

Clare Barnes  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 07:09
Swedish to English
+ ...
Not in the bibliography... Aug 20, 2010

I would agree with Arianne, but the author of the thesis has apparently been underhanded enough not to mention the other research in the bibiography...

 

Arianne Farah  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 01:09
Member (2008)
English to French
I wasn't clear Aug 20, 2010

Clare Barnes wrote:

I would agree with Arianne, but the author of the thesis has apparently been underhanded enough not to mention the other research in the bibiography...


I think I didn't explain it properlyicon_smile.gif I meant that the bibliography had also been copied from the original paper and bibliographies are usually not translated (except maybe for dates consulted or the city of publication) so there would be a big chunk of untranslated text that could trip the softwareicon_smile.gif


 
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