Last night I was working on a translation of a news article; there was a quote from an expert in the article, so I Googled it to see if the quote appeared in English somewhere on the web. Interestingly enough, what popped up was a translation of the entire article. Enter a dilemma, and one that has various ethical and financial gradations. In this situation, I was able to talk to my client on the phone and explain the situation; since the translation was a rush job and due in a few hours, we decided that I would simply go ahead and do the translation as if the online version didn’t exist, but the situation is not always this clear. Following are a few “déjà lu” (already read!) experiences I’ve had and how I’ve handled them.
Situation: You find a translation of your document online. Some people would argue that if the client isn’t willing to spend a few minutes searching for an existing translation, it’s not unfair to go ahead and translate the document and charge the client for it. Personally, I always alert the client in a situation like this and offer to stop translating and be paid only for what I’ve already done, because if the existing translation is high-quality, it seems like a waste of effort to produce another one.
Situation: You have previously translated a document that’s very similar to what you’re working on, but for another client. Here, I think that it’s a case of “leveraging your previous work” and it’s fair to charge the client your full rate. I’ve run into this situation with insurance contracts, where two different clients sent me two insurance contracts that were 90% similar because they were issued by the same company. My take on this: when you have your will written up, the attorney doesn’t charge less because she already has boilerplate documents prepared. As long as the document was for another client, I don’t see a problem with charging full price.
Situation: You have previously translated a document that’s very similar to what you’re working on, and it was for the same client. Here, I’m inclined to err on the side of honesty. I would probably explain the situation to the client and offer to charge by the hour for reviewing the new document and making the changes. I think it’s a little greedy to ask a client to pay you for 8,000 words when they already paid you to translate 7,500 of the same words.
Situation: You’re translating a corporate document, and the text, or something close to it, is already on the company’s website. I think this issue can be argued from both sides. In one sense, the company should be checking that it doesn’t already have a translation of what it’s sending out. In another sense, if the document is sent out for translation, there may be a reason the company wants a new or different translation. I would probably verify with the client, but I don’t think it’s absolutely dishonest not to.