Is someone profiting from your work as an interpreter without paying you?

April 9, 2013 § 6 Comments

Dear colleagues:

During a recent trip I was having dinner with a friend and colleague when the conversation turned to interpretation in the booth. We talked about the ‘old days’ when the interpreters spent a significant amount of time just talking in the booth because there was nobody to interpret for. I am sure many of you have faced the same situation where you do not see anybody wearing headphones in the audience, you ask over the interpretation equipment if anybody is listening, and you double-check with the technician who tells you that nobody has checked out equipment for that session. For many years that meant that you were going to spend the whole afternoon in the booth without interpreting. It wasn’t so bad. We were getting paid as we sell our time and we showed up ready to work, and we had an opportunity to share glossaries, talk shop, and speak of personal things. This was the reason why many friendships among interpreters developed.

Then, one day as we were going through one of these situations, a representative from the agency or the event organizer showed up at the booth and told us that even though nobody needed our services in the auditorium, they were videotaping and audio recording the conference so we needed to interpret  for the recording. Of course this meant that the ‘socializing in the booth’ was over, but we are professionals so we interpreted. This has been my experience for a few years. There are a considerable number of conferences or presentations where nobody requires of the services of an interpreter and we are interpreting for the CD that later on the organizer will sell to others who did to attend the presentation.  This is big business.

Because I also do voice-overs I immediately thought of what happens on that other job; in many ways it is very similar. Some colleagues who had not worked doing voice-overs or commercials loved the new experience. I continued to provide the service for years… and then it hit me! They were recording my work and selling it to many consumers all over the world. They were making a profit from a product that only existed because I had interpreted the workshop or presentation. Yes, it is true that I got paid for doing my job in the booth during the conference, but so did the organizer who charged to those who attended the conference. This was different. They continued to profit from that workshop or presentation and I did not get any piece of the pie.

When you do a voice-over or dubbing you get paid for your services, and then for a few years you get paid for every time the disc is sold or the video is played. Here we were making zero money! I believe that we as interpreters need to receive royalties (like the ones we get for voice-overs and dubbing) every time the company sells or rents a disc that includes our interpretation. I am now including this provision every time I sign a contract to interpret an event that will be recorded. As always, some clients have reacted favorably, others have not. I would like to hear your opinions, and if possible, please share your experience when you ask for royalties.

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

§ 6 Responses to Is someone profiting from your work as an interpreter without paying you?

  • Steven Mines says:

    In my experiences direct clients will consider a royalty arrangement, especially if they are chosing you for that purpose — (i.e. to produce a quality voice-over or a separate audio feed) but an agency or intermediary contractor will consider that you are a producing work-for-hire and that the product (your interpretation) belongs to them — as your translation would if you were producing a written version of the conference presentations and were not copyrighting them as your own work product.
    An intermediary situation is that of a conference where you are interpreting for the web-broadcast, which may likely be recorded but not for future sales. Such recordings I think might reasonably be considered a fair-use of material that you wouldn’t expect to have an ownership interest in.

  • Miss Li Tin, CHU says:

    Hi Tony! excellent message as always! The situation in Taiwan has been the same until the Intellectual Property Law was promoted some years back. I started to put a clause specific to the recording on my contract ever since. I normally indicate 50% of the base rate. Many clients protested at the beginning, presenting similar arguments you already mentioned, others simply “record” the interpretation secretly, thinking that they would never be caught. Over the years, most of the clients are honest with me, but it is still very hard to know exactly how many other clients are doing it stealthily, in bad faith.
    I have noticed that in order to catch the client red-handed is to befriend the sound technician. The guy is the one who knows if his boss has asked him to insert a CD somewhere to get the recording done. It has worked since. The Tech guy needs polite interpreters who greet him and thank him at the the end of the conference.
    Still, the recording issue is in much heated discussion here. There are many interpreters who willingly give up the right to charge a royalty or copyright fee so to get more clients.
    I think by educating the interpreters could improve the situation. Well, that can also be my wishful thinking.
    Just keep the good spirit rolling in and out of the booth!!

  • Alexandra says:

    Hello everyone.
    I work mostly in France, and here, the practice is to add a 15 to 20% royalty fee whenever your translation is recorded.
    This is often waived by the interpreter when the client needs the recording solely for in-house purposes.
    The only people at this stage who use our work without paying are agencies that sell conference and meeting transcriptions and reports in any language over and above the original, using interpreters’ work to sell, for instance, a real-time conference report in both French and English. And that issue is currently being addressed by professionals here.

  • Hi Tony! I did some research on this subject, and found a lot of very interesting information. We do have copyrights over our recorded material, ASTM has very specific guidelines on the subject also, and AIIC recommendations are available for everyone to read. You can see more here: = Recording, Consent and Copyrights: What We Need To Know


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

What’s this?

You are currently reading Is someone profiting from your work as an interpreter without paying you? at The Professional Interpreter.


%d bloggers like this: