Volume 3, No. 1 
January 1999



A Unique Medium—The Flip Side
by Gabe Bokor
Index 1997-99
  Translator Profiles
Correct Science + Elegant Wording = Smiling Client
by S. Edmund Berger, Dr. Chem.
  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Translation Contracts
  Non-English Computing
Use of “Virtual” Texts and HTML in Transliteration
by Michael Walker
 Translator Education
Translation Studies at a Crossroads
by Maj-Britt Holljen
 Biomedical Translation
Immunology—a Brief Overview, Part 3
by Lúcia M. Singer, Ph.D.
  Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature XIV
by Chester E. Claff, Jr., Ph.D.
  Banking and Finance
Going Broke in Brazil
by Danilo Nogueira
  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Terminology Search on the Worldwide Web
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Events
Letters to the Editor
Call for Papers
Translation Journal
       The Profession

 Translation Contracts

Here are two contracts sent by two translation bureaus to freelance translators. The terms of these contracts provoked a lively debate on the Foreign Language Forum (FLEFO) of CompuServe. If you’re a translator or a bureau owner, we’re interested in your comments as to the fairness of these contracts. If you have a legal background, please comment on their legal aspects. If you have some other interesting contracts to share, please pass them along to the editor.
    Please use the form at the bottom of each contract for your response. The e-mail address information is optional. We’ll publish selected answers on this page as they are received. If your comments are published, we would like to mention your name, city, state or province, and country (but NOT your e-mail address). If you don’t wish this information to appear on the Web, mark the second radio button, and we’ll respect your wishes.
    If we receive too many (or too long) responses, we’ll make them available for download.


Contract Number 1

Confidentiality and Non-Compete Agreement

Agreement and acknowledgement between XYZ Translation Company (hereinafter referred to as XYZ) and _________ (hereinafter referred to as Translator), relating to all jobs completed for XYZ (hereinafter referred to as Project).

XYZ will furnish Translator certain confidential information relating to Project for purposes of translation. The translator agrees to review such information only for the purposes of translation and to otherwise hold such information strictly confidential, and not release any information to a third party without prior written approval. You further agree to limit access to these materials to those persons in your organization who are directly engaged in or responsible for translating.

Acceptance of the material is with the understanding that all material submitted, and any copies thereof, will be returned to XYZ, upon completing the translating of the project. Furthermore, Translator agrees that he/she cannot contact XYZ’s client directly for any purpose whatsoever from the date the project begins until a period of five years after the project has been completed.

Translator acknowledges that all such information is and will remain property of XYZ and that unauthorized use will cause irreparable harm to the company. Translator agrees that in the event of breach of this Agreement, XYZ will be entitled to injunctive relief and any other remedies permitted by law.

Accepted by:

Name/Title Date

Please comment on the above contract. Selected responses will be placed on this page as they are received. If the number of responses does not allow placement on the Web page, they will be made available for download. The Editor reserves the right to edit readers’ responses.
Your Full Name:
City of Residence:
State of Province:
E-mail Address:

I do do not want my name, city, and country to appear with my comments.
Your Comments:
Readers’ Comments

The non-contact clause at the end of paragraph 3 goes too far for me, but I’m not certain that it is “unfair.”
    A freelancer who feels constrained to work with that particular agency might suggest a counterclause to the effect that the agency agrees to hold the freelancer harmless for any damage arising as a result of the agency’s failure to convey the translator’s questions and concerns to the author(s).
    Knowing some agency owners, I could imagine their deciding to use such a clause to try to prevent inexperienced freelancers from being a nuisance to their favorite clients and to try to prevent their “star” freelancers (or employees, for that matter) from being poached.
    But if I had an agency, I would expect to avoid inexperienced freelancers and to treat my stars well enough not to have to set up an embargo around my clients.
    As with political embargoes, is there any way of knowing how effective such clauses are (if at all) in the translation context?
    In a different vein, do contracts ever sound friendly and fair? The wording here sounds about the same as what I have seen of non-compete clauses for business executives, R&D whizzes, etc. though five years seems excessive.

Name withheld

Never work for bureaus. That’s been my fule for thirty-five years, and it’s the advice I give to my students. Get a job in house or be a proper freelance dealing directly with your own clients. If you can neither get a job nor find clients, change your profession.

Roger Greaves, Paris, France

This contract is more or less the same as used by a lot of agencies, perhaps the wording may be slightly different. All clauses seem to be acceptable, except the last one; five years seems to be too long. Anyway, no honest translator would approach a customer to whom he/she was introduced by an agency.

Joseph Feredoes, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Contract Number 2


If we do not receive the file on the specified date, you will be fined as follows. This fine will be deducted from final total moneys due to you:
     $5 for every hour you are late or
     $40 for each day you are late.

If we have problems opening the file from you and cannot reach you, you will be fined $10 for our inconvenience in opening the file.

If there are mistakes in the English of the document (misspellings, phone numbers) you will be fined $ .25 per word for these mistakes.

5. 6. 7.
If we call you with a question, problem and you do not respond within 24 (48, 72) hours, we will deduct $25 ($50, $100) from the final total moneys owed to you.

Your rate includes 1 review of the final formatted document to ensure that word and line breaks are correct. When you receive a phone call from the project coordinator indicating a review is needed, you must respond to him within 24 hours and review the material within 3 business days.

Please comment on this contract:
Your Full Name:
City of Residence:
State of Province:
E-mail Address:

I do do not want my name, city, and country to appear with my comments.
Your Comments:

Readers’ Comments

Conditions are tough and so-to-say one-sided; the translator has to pay in every case. It is not fair. I think it is enough to outline the format and deadline saying that the translator must meet the deadline, otherwise he will be fined (30%, then 50% for instance).

Name withheld

Apart from the use of the male pronoun, I am not sure how this is one-sided.
    As far as payment is concerned, isn’t it an excerpt from a contract? I would assume that clause 1 (omitted here) states the dimensions of the job, the translator’s payscale and timeframe (like a delivery contract for plant or machinery).
    I would object to the “file-opening fine” as way too vague. What is to prevent the agency from simply deducting ten bucks from every bill by claiming they “had trouble” and tried to email/call me at some absurd time from my point of view?

Name withheld

I often work for translation bureaus and I’ve seen several contracts, but I’m really surprised with this one. I believe this company might occasionally make the translator actually pay for the work done. It’s really amazing. Things would be so wonderful if we could have contracts like this for all the services we need, such as repairing our cars, fixing our computers, going to a doctor, having our houses painted...

Carolina Alfaro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

This document seems to be set up so that the translator pays for the ignorance and inexperience of the writers of the contract, or their inability to contact the translator. If a company is so inept it cannot perform basic functions such as opening a file, there is definitely something wrong. It should be noted that in the monolingual publishing world it is not standard practice to fine someone for typos. I would never sign such a document.

Wayne McCallum, Wellington, New Zealand

The contract stipulates: “you must ... review the material within 3 business days.” And if it’s a 1200-page book? The contract should specify the amount of pages to be reviewed daily.

Name withheld

This agency obviously prefers to work with mediocre translators and not to bother to improve its own procedures. The fines suggested here indicate that they would accept lots of mistakes (and pay someone in-house to fix them) rather than establish a system where fines would be a measure to improve the quality of work subcontracted. $0.25 per word of mistake is too high to mean anything else than somebody’s salary for retranslation.
    Although certain “performance guarantees” may be necessary in some cases, the sanctions should be two-way, i.e., “should the agency fail to provide the right word whenever I need it...”
    Never sign such a contract.

Name withheld

Actually I work as an interpreter so I must admit I don’t know much about contracts of this type. As an outsider I’d say the contract is at the least amusing. Are you sure it was actually submitted? It seems to lack important details. How much would the fine be if Sans Serif was used instead of Arial? .0005% seems reasonable to me. Do you agree?
    From a more abstract standpoint I think contracts such as these fit within a general trend of today’s society to over formalize all aspects of life. ISO 9000, common degree programs, EU laws of all sorts are just some examples of the need to regulate and define everything, from the optimal size of nuts and bolts to the recommended thickness of icing on cakes.

Name withheld

The problem with this contract is that it treats human error as a capital crime. I am the operations manager for a translation company. Our process avoids the necessity for such punitive measures. After all, our translators are our business partners just as we are theirs. We strive for a relationship of mutual respect. Our translators begin with small projects, and as they demonstrate their skill and professionalism, the projects offered increase. We believe in communication and competent project coordination.

Julie MacGregor, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Point 3: “If we have problem opening the file from you and cannot reach you, you’ll be fined for our inconvenience in opening the file.” What if the above is due to:

  1. The agency’s incompetence in opening the file?
  2. The incompatibility between agency’s and translator’s OS or software?
  3. An innocent glitch in the electronic transmission?
Last but not least: why should the translator be responsible if an agency cannot reach him/her? What if he/she is on assignment or is cruising in the Adriatic? Should he/she do nothing but just wait at the telephone once the job is delivered? This is so ridiculous!

Johannes Tan, Aloha, Oregon, USA

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