What would you do if you discovered plagiarism?
Thread poster: Denise Phelps

Denise Phelps  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:55
Spanish to English
+ ...
Oct 29, 2013

Hi everyone;

I'd be grateful to hear your opinions on what you would do in my situation.

Researching terminology on the Internet, I discovered that large parts (entire paragraphs) of the text I am presently translating have been lifted word for word from a text published in the same source language in 2009. The original author is not referenced anywhere in my text. Further terminology research turned up the original author's doctoral thesis - which was supervised by the author of the text I am translating.

I have a good relationship with the PM, and sent her the proof. She is currently wringing her hands and wondering what to do.

It's not the legal implications for myself that concern me; it's that I find that I feel disgusted and unmotivated to continue with the translation. Do you think I'm over-reacting? And what would you do?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.


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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
No, you're not overreacting. Oct 29, 2013

You've done exactly the right thing, and the PM should raise this with the end customer. There may be a perfectly valid reason, but it needs to be clarified.

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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 14:55
Chinese to English
You can raise it as a query Oct 30, 2013

It's an embarrassing situation all round, so there's something to be said for being a bit oblique about it. For example: In the course of researching to do the best translation possible, I found that a particular section seems to be a quote from (reference), but it's not formatted as such - should these paragraphs be inset as for a block quote?

Then you wait to see what the response is. If the author says he(/she) will revise, then you win. If he doesn't, then you ask the PM if it's possible to make your excuses and abandon the project. The author will know what's happened, and the rest is up to him. It's not up to you to police this author, but you can certainly choose not to participate in his plagiarism.


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:55
Spanish to English
+ ...
Sticky wicket Oct 30, 2013

This sounds like a tough decision. However, if the person ordering the translation supervised the original author's thesis, I'd bear in mind that a lot of the input may have in fact originally come from the "supervisor". I'd tend to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Also, if the text is to be submitted to a professional journal, they all usually have their own anti-plagiarism rules, warnings and procedures in place, so again I wouldn't worry too much about my own responsibility as translator for any perceived plagiarism.


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:55
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Not my call, really Oct 30, 2013

Have you considered there might be some kind of relationship between the two? As co-authors, for instance.

Arrangements by which a research assistant might be doing his/her thesis in the course of an internship are common. It's not a question of who said what first, but a kind of shared copyright or conclusion. It could also be a diplomatic way of raising the sticky wicket as a query...


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Denise Phelps  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:55
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for your input Oct 30, 2013

It's been a great help in clarifying my thoughts.

The PM and I have done more or less what Phil Goddard and Phil Hand have suggested, which was also my gut feeling on what to do. Putting sections within quote marks as suggested by Phil Hand will be fun, as the first 3 paragraphs of the introduction, and then later, whole pages, have been lifted verbatim from the original article.

As for giving the author the benefit of the doubt, there is more to the story: this is the 3rd time I've translated an article by this particular author. The first time, internet terminology research led me straight to a seminal work on the subject (in English) published on Google that the author had "copied" verbatim in Spanish and then handed in for translation. We asked him to add the references where necessary. The second time, it was directly from Wikipedia. So "benefit of the doubt" doesn't really seem to apply in this case. I've told the PM that I'll finish this one, but I don't want her to send me any more texts written by this person. It just kills the fun of translating for me.


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Catherine Howard
United States
Local time: 02:55
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Hmmmm, third time?!? Dec 20, 2013

If this is the third time this plagiarist -- oh, excuse me, "author" -- has lifted large amounts of verbatim quotes from the works of others without proper citation, I don't understand why you didn't take action the first time, or at least the second, when you saw a clear pattern of plagiarism.

Plagiarism is an illegal action: the theft of intellectual property. It can be prosecuted in court -- although usually the authors being plagiarized cannot afford to defend their rights. In the case of doctoral students, their careers can be destroyed by ruthless supervisors, who are abusing their position of power, if the students protest against the plagiarism. Plagiarists know these facts, so they continue to get away with their crimes. Although you, as translator, are not legally liable, by participating in the translation of an illegally acquired piece of intellectual property, you are aiding and abetting the commission of such crimes and the exploitation of weaker parties.

Phil's delicate approach is the most discreet way to call the plagiarist's attention to the fact that others are aware of his transgression. However, it sounds like this particular plagiarist is shameless and incorrigible. You and the project manager are legally permitted to break the translation contract on the grounds that the source text was illegally obtained and you cannot accept stolen property. In fact, I would venture to say you are ethically obligated to terminate the contract.

Until people stop trafficking in stolen intellectual property, plagiarism will keep on wreaking havoc with other people's livelihoods.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 14:55
Chinese to English
Good solution Dec 22, 2013

I've only just seen Denise's follow-up post. I think you've made a good decision there. Quite apart from the ethical considerations, there is a technical reason for not accepting this work: it's not publication-ready. The author is apparently incapable of sending you properly referenced work, but is expecting to receive (I guess) a publication-ready translation into English. He is asking you to do an extra job (marking up references) for no extra cost.

Further action would be difficult, because we have a very strong responsibility not to disclose the content that we are given to translate. But the one action you can take is to dump the client. Good riddance to bad rubbish!


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Catherine Howard
United States
Local time: 02:55
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Touché! Dec 22, 2013

As he so often does, Phil has offered a brilliant, actionable solution to a sticky, complicated situation. He's right to point out that, in dealings with the plagiarist, it can be addressed as a technical issue of needing references to become publication-ready. Then the culprit knows you're on to his crime, but you've politely avoided any direct accusations.

Following up, I suggest that, if this thief ever contacts the agency for another translation, your PM should add on charges to the quote for a research assistant, if such a specialist can be located, to prepare the manuscript for publication by researching references -- at triple the cost of the translation services. See if the SOB ever knocks on your door again....


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Suzan Hamer  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 08:55
English
+ ...
I've been in a similar situation, Dec 23, 2013

with an end client. As you did, I told the client what I had found online while googling terminology. She checked into it and eventually found out that the writer was using material he had posted earlier online on the website of a different company, which was apparently somehow related to the client's company. So turns out, the writer was "plagiarizing" himself. But as you've pointed out, this doesn't seem to be the case in your situation.

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