I am an English into Swedish freelance translator, and I recently learned that I have been the victim of plagiarism. If you are a well-known professional freelance translator, with a successful website and/or blog, there is a chance you have also been, or might be in the future. I believe in the power of online marketing and have invested a lot of time and money on my website, both on the design and on the copy. Last week I was contacted by the company I paid to help me with my website design. They directed me to a nearly-identical web site of another freelance translator and asked if my website has been plagiarized or if I had given permission to use such an identical design and copy. I had not given permission to it. Luckily, the plagiarizing freelance translator was very responsive and tried to remove the copied content and design as soon as I made contact. This person claims to have used a design and copy service, which makes it even worse. What type of content creation company would knowingly plagiarize others’ material and make a business out of selling that to its clients?
What do you do if you suspect your website, or your copy has been plagiarized? Here are some tips!
1. Take a portion or a sentence out of your text and use one of the online services to detect plagiarism (i.e. Viper, Plagiarism Checker, etc.). You can also do a simple Google search by taking a unique phrase from your web site and entering it within quotation marks in the Google search field.
2. Send a polite email to the offender, asking him/her to remove the plagiarized content. Note that your original content is copyrighted and protected by international law.
3. If that does not work, send a complaint to the hosting company that hosts the website of the offender. Remember to provide a link to the Google cache with the plagiarized content. It is also good to show evidence of your ranking on Google and other search engines, plus evidence of how many links you have to your content.
Plagiarism is a breach of copyright laws and in that regard considered a crime. Make sure you mention on your website that the content is copyrighted by you, for example in the footer. If you create the content, you are the owner of it.
Similarly, be very careful about the content of your own website. Always get permission if you want to use someone else’s material or cite someone, and then clearly indicate the source of the material. I have found that using pictures is a particularly tricky area. You always need to check very carefully that the picture or icon you use is not copyrighted and that it is royalty free. Even if you find the picture on a website with “royalty free” pictures, it is best to confirm that it is not posted there by someone who once bought it. This happened to me once. I thought I had used a royalty free picture when I found it on a website with supposedly royalty free stock photos, but that was not the case. I received a letter from the company that owned the rights to the photo and ultimately ended up having to compensate them for its use. Some people claim that some stock photo companies make a lot of money by posting pictures, or links to pictures, on websites that claim to have only royalty free pictures. I am not sure if this is true or not, but I was fooled once and would like to extend a word of caution to all of you. The best solution, of course, is to use entirely original material.
What about translated plagiarized content?
How do we detect if content has been plagiarized but is in another language? Someone can steal your content, translate it and use it as her/his own. There are no systems that can effectively detect translated plagiarism. Why? Because as we know there are no globally accepted procedures for translation, each language has its own rules of grammar, and the range of possible translated copy is too broad for simple or even advanced searches to pinpoint. Some people might even claim that if the text is translated, it is not your text anymore. Where do copyrights start and where do they end when it comes to translation? This is a very tricky issue, well worth discussing. In the meantime, we can only hope that the person who uses your text asks for permission before translating it to another language. This is good ethical business practice and honorable translators care about professional ethics and business practices. On the other hand, one can assume that if the translator is NOT professional, the translated content might not be very professionally translated either, and therefore not very good.
What about performing translation of plagiarized content?
Are we, as professional translators, responsible if we translate plagiarized text? I should think not, and the responsibility should not fall on us to detect plagiarized source content either. Most of the time, the only thing we can do is make sure we work with professional and ethical clients. However, if we by any chance would detect plagiarism, I believe it would be appropriate to send a friendly email pointing this possibility out to our client. Our contact person might not even be the creator of the content, and you can be doing them a favor. When I was doing some research on the web, I noticed that the development of detection systems for translated plagiarized content is also on the rise. For example TurnItIn recently announced a service for multilingual plagiarism detection.
What is my conclusion? Simply that we should be aware that plagiarism can happen, and that in today’s digital world it is easy to copy others’ content either consciously or inadvertently. Be careful, professional, and ethical and your business will thrive.
Oh, and this blog post is Copyright © 2013, Tess Whitty. 🙂