Can a dissatisfied client keep a translation he refuses to pay for?

If you buy new trousers and find out at home that there is a hole in them, can you just go to the store then to reclaim the money and still keep the pants? Of course not, you have the right to non-defective trousers, but you don’t have the right to keep the (defective) goods and still not pay for them.

It is no different with translations. Alleged deficiencies in a translation or any necessary corrections that are almost always part of the work process can be an inviting reason for some clients to refuse to pay. Even worse, there are clients that point out alleged defects only after the delivery of the translation i.e. after the translation has been put to use and is beyond any point of returning back. Of course, they refuse to pay too.

  • If a client is not satisfied with your translation, he must express that dissatisfaction in a reasonable time period suitable for the scope of the project.
  • A translation is deemed to be accepted if the invoice has been received or fully paid by the client and the defect was not reported within the “reasonable” follow-up period.

The problem is not the dissatisfaction itself. Every translator that thinks of himself to be highly professional, has to be always open to discussions about any suspicions on the client’s side concerning the quality of a translation.

Moreover, it is the responsibility of a translator to provide at least one revision of the project when asked by the client. It’s how you ensure maximum quality even if the translation had no errors in the first place. It’s simply inherent to the profession and the right thing to do. (If the client asks for more than one revision, there are options where you can agree a certain price for any subsequent check of the material.)

The real problem is when a client uses his dissatisfaction as a smokescreen for his intention to not pay even though the translation has been put to use without any remark on the quality. Just like with trousers: you either return them to the store and get your money back, or replace them for other trousers that don’t have a hole in them.

Similarly, the client “exchanges” the translation with another of higher quality, that is, after it’s been revised by the translator and amended where necessary. The trousers i.e. the translation, is mended at the cost of the translator, and is returned back to the client after mending.

The very least the client can do in such situations (depending on the severity of the objective errors in the translation) is to pay at least partially for the honest efforts of the translator. However, if the translation has been so badly done to the point where reworking is needed by giving it to another translator, the client has every right not to pay if the situation has been agreed upon in due time.

The bottom line is: if the client has not paid out of objective or any other reasons, he is not allowed to use the translation regardless of its quality. The translation needs to be returned back, all files deleted on the client’s side, and not a single part of the translated text can be used for any purpose. Any translation is subjected to copyright, so technically the translation is yours legally.

If the nature of the project is such where errors can be noticed only long after delivery, the client needs to clarify this to the translator and an agreement should be made regarding any such specifics.

What are your thoughts on this?

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