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Sticky wicket: My author seems to have lifted 75% of his book from English language sources!
Thread poster: wordgirl

wordgirl  Identity Verified
Italy
Member (2008)
Italian to English
+ ...
Jul 22, 2011

Hi everybody. I am not sure if I am posting in the right forum, but I actually don't quite know how to approach this rather thorny issue, on ANY level!! I

I am translating a book on a fairly technical subject for publication in the US. Two weeks ago, in searching for the English version of a term used by the author, I stumbled upon a webpage (in English) that contains the ENTIRE contents of that particular chapter…verbatim. Word for **** word. I thought it was just that chapter and that the two of us could have a sit down and find a way of rewording the English version of that section (groan). But then, the other day, on a whim, I began to check the rest of his work…and I discovered that at least eight of the ten chapters that I still have to translate (out of twelve total) are word for word translations, into his language, from documents in the original English posted to various reputable and visible sites around the web, which can be EASILY found (if even I found them in no time…). This book, which has already been published in the source language and is on the shelves in Europe, will be published by a reputable scholarly publishing house in the US, and the FIRST thing they do, obviously, is to send any work that arrives to peer review (yikes)… He does cite the sources, say once per chapter, but never states that he is LIFTING EVERYTHING from that particular source. Does this constitute plagiarism? (I am betting that is does, big time!) At this point, it is really, really tempting to simply copy and paste from the original documents (the translation would be finished in RECORD time), but then that would never get this book published, and, as odd as it may sound, where he is not copying, it is excellent. I also truly don’t want him to end up in any hot water, but nor do I want to end up in hot water!

What in the world should I do?? Has anybody ever been in such a ridiculous position? This work doesn’t only need to be translated, it needs to be TOTALLY rewritten! And, of course, I would VERY MUCH like to paid for the work I have done up to this point, so simply walking away is a bit difficult… At this point, disbelief has gone first to shock and horror and now to out and out rage..and worry.

THANKS in advance for any and advise, wisdom and moral support that you can impart!

Kindest regards to you all,

Wordgirl


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Jan Willem van Dormolen  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 05:22
English to Dutch
+ ...
Tell the author Jul 22, 2011

The ethical thing to do would be, IMHO, to write the author with the exact same message that you've posted here: I found your method, I found it out real easily, so do you really want to go through with this?
If he says no, then ask him to pay for the work you've done so far and leave it at that.
If he says yes, then you can either be principal and refuse, or decide that you've done your best and it's really his business and do a fair translation, without ever looking at the English sources. (Don't try to be different, don't try to be the same. Just do your own stuff.)


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FarkasAndras
Local time: 05:22
English to Hungarian
+ ...
options Jul 22, 2011

wordgirl wrote:

I also truly don’t want him to end up in any hot water


Why? In your situation, I would.

One option is to tell the author that you can't continue the translation, hand over the part you've done and ask for payment. The most distant hint at a vague suspicion of plagiarism should ensure that the payment arrives in record time... Plagiarism can end an academic career pretty fast, so the author is in your hands.
The right thing to do is probably to confront the author with your findings and go from there... if he cites all the original sources in the text, then maybe he believes that this collage techique is a legitimate way to write a book. The American publisher likely won't agree.


[Edited at 2011-07-22 07:59 GMT]


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Jocelyne S  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 05:22
Member
French to English
+ ...
Wow... Jul 22, 2011

What a dreadful situation!

You do not mention who your actual client is: the publisher, the author or some other body?

If your client is the publisher, I think you have a moral duty to inform them of your findings.
If your client is the author, I think you'll have to contact/confront him about the issue.
If it's some other body, I guess it's up to you, but I think you really should tell: better to be honest than to end up in big trouble once the book is out.

You might also want to seek counsel from a lawyer to make sure that you are not going to end up in legal trouble if you decide to go ahead with the translation. In any case, I'm fairly certain that if you simply copy-and-paste the original into your translation (without citing the original sources), then you too will be plagiarising.

What a mess. Unfortunately, I don't really see how you can go ahead and complete a translation that is actually just a back-translation of a plagiarised book. (I presume you are sure that your author is not the author of what you found on the web?)

Maybe someone else will have more optimistic advice, but I would be very careful to make sure that you do not end up in hot water for participating in plagiarism.

Good luck,
Jocelyne

[Edited at 2011-07-22 07:57 GMT]


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Laurent KRAULAND  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 05:22
French to German
+ ...
More pessimistic advice... Jul 22, 2011

Jocelyne S wrote:

(.../...)

Maybe someone else will have more optimistic advice, but I would be very careful to make sure that you do not end up in hot water for participating in plagiarism.

Good luck,
Jocelyne


Methinks it is already too late to reverse steam and possibly to go on with the translation as the concerns about this job have been posted on a freely accessible website targeting a worldwide audience.
Even without details, I would have this thread deleted by ProZ.com staff and handle the matter with the person who assigned the job.

[Edited at 2011-07-22 08:13 GMT]


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Daniel Grau  Identity Verified
Argentina
English to Spanish
Don't tell yet Jul 22, 2011

My main concern would be the chance of not receiving compensation for your translation work, in particular if you will not be paid by the word when you deliver the text. If you've instead (or in addition) signed a contract regarding translation rights and a percentage of the income generated by the published work, this might be jeopardized if the issue of plagiarism is eventually brought up. So just in case, stay away from a rate reduction on the promise of future percentage income.

I would say: first finish your work, get paid and then bring the issue up as your conscience dictates.

As for lifting your translation verbatim from the found sources, that would be unethical, as both of you would fall into the same bag of copyright infringement. Just limit yourself to picking up whatever terminology you would usually pick up from the web, as would be the case with any other job.

Regards,

Daniel


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Dr. Matthias Schauen  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:22
Member
English to German
Tell the author now Jul 22, 2011

It is definitely plagiarism*, and it might well get noticed once the book is published in English. I doubt that a re-write is possible if at least 75% come from other sources.

Since the English version will probably never get published, your author might have problems or be unwilling to pay for your translation. That's why I would stop right away and talk to the author. I guess it will be easier for you to get paid for what you have done so far than to get paid for the whole book.

Should you and the author come up with some solution to "save" the book, I would nevertheless ask for an advance payment or for several payment rates.

Good luck,
Matthias

P.S.: All this assuming that your client is the author. But if the client is the publisher, the strategy is pretty much the same: Tell them right away and negotiate that you get paid for the work already done and for some of the work not done. (You cannot just finish the work, since, as Laurent pointed out, because of your post here you won't be able to pretend you didn't know.)

*Recently, here in Germany several high-ranking politicians had to resign or at least lost their doctorate degrees because they (or their ghostwriters) used the same technique in their theses.

[Edited at 2011-07-22 08:39 GMT]


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Jaroslaw Michalak  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 05:22
Member (2004)
English to Polish
Get out of this Jul 22, 2011

Do you think you can continue the work if you have such doubts already? Fearing that each sentence you write in English might bring the case closer to disclosure?

I would say - get out of this!

As for the payment issue... It is a rather delicate matter if one wants to stay on the ethical side of things, but if the problems arise, you could mention the fact that non-payment would naturally bring the book publicity of the kind which one would rather want to avoid in this particular case...

Have also in mind that if the book has been published already, it might be just a matter of time when someone else finds out about this... What if this happens when you are nearly done? The risk of non-payment would be much greater, naturally, and it would be totally out of your control.


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wordgirl  Identity Verified
Italy
Member (2008)
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
thanks to all of you, not a very optimistic situation... Jul 22, 2011

to Jan, Jocelyn, Laurent and Daniel: Thanks to all four of you; you all raised some interesting points and gave me some good ideas (and helped me regain some mental clarity!)
My client is the author, and at this point we clearly need to sit down and have a serious talk... The problem is that I really like this person and his work, generally (if not this particular one!). So, and I am thinking out loud, based on the VERY valuable advice you have all given me, it doesn't seem to make much sense in going ahead, working five times harder to avoid the exact wording of what are clearly the originals, for something that will have to be rewritten anyway...

But it really gets my goat that I have to step in and play policeman. sheesh!

wg


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 05:22
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Stop and sort it out now Jul 22, 2011

Daniel Grau wrote:

My main concern would be the chance of not receiving compensation for your translation work, in particular if you will not be paid by the word when you deliver the text. ...

I would say: first finish your work, get paid and then bring the issue up as your conscience dictates.

As for lifting your translation verbatim from the found sources, that would be unethical, as both of you would fall into the same bag of copyright infringement. Just limit yourself to picking up whatever terminology you would usually pick up from the web, as would be the case with any other job.

Regards,

Daniel


I would find that impossible.

Uncomfortable as the situation is, you have to make it clear that you were not willingly involved in any plagiarism, and that you withdrew as soon as you discovered it. Otherwise you will have difficulty pretending you did not know, and may be accused of conniving in the plagiarism.

Realistically, there will not be any money if the translation is not published, or books have to be withdrawn, so you cannot be sure of getting paid for more than you have translated already. If you have to sue for what you are owed, legal fees will eat up any money there is, and the proceedings will take up time that could be better spent on earning honest money from honest clients.

Once you are in the clear, I hope you find good clients who can write their own material without plagiarism. You have to think of your own future too. Pull out, cut your losses if you have to, before they get any worse, and move on with a clear conscience. That may be difficult enough, without getting into deeper trouble, so I wish you all the best!

Just my two pen'orth....


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wordgirl  Identity Verified
Italy
Member (2008)
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Much thanks to you all Jul 22, 2011

My heartfelt thanks to EVERYONE who has posted thus far. You are all REALLY helping me with this! It's lovely to feel that I am not alone in this!

wg


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B D Finch  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 05:22
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Deleting? Jul 22, 2011

Laurent KRAULAND wrote:

Even without details, I would have this thread deleted by ProZ.com staff and handle the matter with the person who assigned the job.


The thread doesn't identify publisher, author or subject, so it is better to leave it rather than have it deleted and risk that looking like a cover-up. It covers an issue that could well be useful for other translators. This thread is already in the public domain and may have been downloaded, copied or referenced by other people.


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Laurent KRAULAND  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 05:22
French to German
+ ...
Too hasty... Jul 22, 2011

B D Finch wrote:

Laurent KRAULAND wrote:

Even without details, I would have this thread deleted by ProZ.com staff and handle the matter with the person who assigned the job.


The thread doesn't identify publisher, author or subject, so it is better to leave it rather than have it deleted and risk that looking like a cover-up. It covers an issue that could well be useful for other translators. This thread is already in the public domain and may have been downloaded, copied or referenced by other people.


Indeed - I guess I reacted too hastily. My apologies for that.

[Edited at 2011-07-22 09:57 GMT]


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:22
Spanish to English
+ ...
Integrity or filthy lucre Jul 22, 2011

Let's play Devil's advocate here for a moment. You might consider that if you translate what is to all intents and purposes a text in your client's language into English, it will likely differ from the original text plagiarised, at least in form if not in content, so you might then be less worried about the ethical implications of your involvement.

I see myself as more a wordsmith than a translator per se, and limit myself to providing only a basic service, translating the texts that clients send me, at competitive rates, in basic, easily workable formats, without taking any action to investigate out where they may have obtained their source material or verify its originality, which I see as the remit of any editors and peer-reviewers concerned at the end of the process.

However, I can see that as an honest professional you feel your this client is undermining your integrity, hence your misgivings. In your shoes, if I needed the cash, I might be inclined to just do the job anyway, then perhaps notify the Journal or publisher it it to be submitted to, just to ease my conscience. Then again, this could be construed as a betrayal of your client's confidence, so which would be the lesser of the two evils?

A thorny question indeed. Translation is rife in academia and since you are not the author it might be best to be as circumspect as possible, despite your reluctance. Sometimes our is not to reason why...




[Edited at 2011-07-22 11:01 GMT]


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:22
Spanish to English
+ ...
Seems the best course Jul 22, 2011

Daniel Grau wrote:

I would say: first finish your work, get paid and then bring the issue up as your conscience dictates.
Daniel


This more or less sums up what I was trying to say earlier, without all the waffle.


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