If you treat your translation memories as second-hand books that you try to get rid of for a few pennies every now and then, you are in good company: in the last few years a couple of TM marketplaces have emerged (and some of them disappeared as well) where you can sell all the knowledge you have saved in a database file while working for clients. However, if you treat your TMs like the secret Coca Cola recipe, selling them won’t sound like a great idea. Nevertheless there are a few places on the worldwide web where you can make some money with your translation memories, a place where many translators are selling (or buying) TMs. Is selling your translation memories a good idea?
Trading translation memories
Trading in translation memories might sound like a great idea (especially for the developers of such TM marketplaces). Indeed, it enables you to sell your translation memories for specific language pairs and industries to colleagues, enabling them to use your work and gain time they otherwise would spend on researching terms, while earning some money yourself. It is therefore translators who are cleaning up their glossaries and memories, dividing them into as many specific fields as possible and marketing them at websites like TM Town and TTMEM.com.
Selling translation memories sounds attractive. Indeed, all you need to do is to upload your TM, set some parameters and start selling. In the meantime you can simply go ahead with your translation job and grow new memories which you can sell later on. Selling a TM therefore enables you to earn money with only limited effort. It is great for every translator who wants to make more money – especially when you have have a dry spell.
The pros of selling translation memories
Selling translation memories has some obvious benefits for translators. Apart from the benefitsof the selling party I’ve already mentioned, a TM marketplace enables buyers to gain access to large or small memories that are highly specific because they contain all sorts of terms used for particular translation jobs. If you buy a TM you therefore help colleagues by generating more income for them, while at the same time making clear you value their work and want to use it for your own translation jobs. Depending on the quality and size of the TM you also help yourself by eliminating research efforts and having access to a great corpora right from your CAT tool.
In the best case, a TM marketplace therefore facilitates a win-win situation for translators (and a third win for the mediators as they obviously take a margin on the purchase price).
What is the value of a translation memory?
An important question that emerges when speaking about selling translation memories is the value: what determines the value of a translation memory? Is it the size? The quality of the sentences? Or the content?
For many translators the value is mainly determined by the size as a huge memory often reflects a huge amount of work (sometimes even years), while other translators find the presence of specific terminology an important consideration.
However, for other parties like scammers or hackers a translation memory can be of importance as well. Consider the famous but secret Coca Cola recipe or a translation memory with detailed information about the security of Google’s infrastructure: for malicious people, these data – which are kept secret by companies but exposed by translators who want to make some money – are worth millions, but traded only for some dollars on an otherwise small marketplace.
The ethical dilemmas and possible dangers of uploading translation memories
It may be clear that by selling translation memories you can be of great help to your colleagues. But how ethical is selling the knowledge you gained while working for clients?
The answer to that question depends on your agreements with clients and on the work you are selling. However, it is still somewhat more complicated because if there are no such agreements with clients (or agreements that don’t exclude an option to sell knowledge you gained while translating their documents) there is still some common sense or good judgement that can allow or disallow trading your translation memories.
Translation memories, generally speaking, contain your own translations and by lack of any signed copyright transfer agreement, you are the proprietary owner of the content in them. You might therefore have the full rights to sell any translation memory you created for any client or job. However, apart from your rights on your own creativity used in the translations, translation memories can hold valuable data about your client’s business or secret information about a new medicine to be introduced. In that case, selling a translation memory with work you hold the copyright to can be unethical as uploading it to a marketplace can be regarded as wilfully disclosing proprietary information from clients.
So while selling a translation memory in itself may be allowed, the content of the memory can still make it unethical or even dangerous for any party involved to sell it (including you, possible intermediaries and end clients alike, and sometimes even the TM marketplace). Ethically uploading a translation memory to a marketplace while you hold any copyrights on the translation can still expose you to possible lawsuits for violating copyrights on the source text, or willingly or unintentionally disclosing valuable business information.
If you have signed a copyright transfer agreement, i.e. transferring the copyrights on your translation to the buying party, there is a huge chance that selling your translation memory is a violation of any terms and therefore unethical. (There is nevertheless a chance that such an agreement does not hold because lawyers can make a distinction between copyrights on content and creativity).
But if one thing is clear, it is this: never sell translation memories that are not your own.
Considerations while buying translation memories
The above considerations about ethics and the possible dangers of selling translation memories are important to buying them too as buying contested TMs can expose the translators to certain dangers as well.
More important however are considerations concerning quality and intellectual property rights.
Buying a translation memory sounds easy. After you have found a TM that seems valuable to you, you decide if it’s worth the price and buy it when you think it is. However, it is impossible to judge the quality of the TM beforehand. Translators can have done a certain amount of work in a particular field, but they can still use wrong terms or even lack a good understanding of the specific language pair. That sounds ridiculous, but it happens to many translators who translate into more (non-native) languages. So, which translator (and translation memory) can you trust? The one with the most segments? The one with the best price? Or the one with the most sales?
You can only judge the quality of a TM after you have bought it.
Then there are the intellectual property rights. These are especially a matter for the selling party but buyers need to be careful as well to avoid problems (although it is possible for any law enforcing agency or company to find out who is using TMs with content that is protected by intellectual property laws). Generally speaking, buying TMs from inhouse translators and project managers is asking for trouble as their work and products derived from it are assets of the company they work for and therefore should not be used or sold.
And what to think about a compiled translation memory with work from different clients (or even translators), which makes it impossible to discover the origin of certain terms or translations? A compilation of many different translations not only detracts from any clarity as to the source and copyrights but can also reduce the quality.
Selling translation memories: a good idea?
For some translators selling translation memories seems a valuable activity, although it can also show a lack of ethics. Trading translation memories can have obvious benefits for translators (and agencies alike). On the other hand people should not overestimate the benefits as many companies use their own terminology, which may differ from document to document. The most important disadvantage is, however, that you can scramble your knowledge and expertise which took years to build to make some pennies while putting yourself at some risk. The safest way to sell translation memories is by making sure they only contain generic information, without specific terminology or identifiable information (which, apart from names and addresses, can be terms or specific syntax). However that will prove useless as the TM then lacks all the characteristics that would make it otherwise important. Until all the legal aspects of copyrights are properly addressed, it would be better to avoid buying TMs – not to mention selling them.