When I was a graduate student in the 1980s, I translated a treatise written by an important artist into English. A person who at the time was an assistant professor approached me about it. Flattered by the professor's interest, I gave him/her a copy. Soon thereafter, I asked for my translation back, but the professor asked to keep it a while longer. Since I was a student, I was afraid to insist on its prompt return.

A few years later, the professor found a publisher for the translation. We signed contracts with the publisher in which we were both designated as co-authors. The professor claimed to have "reworked" my translation and we are both credited on the title page as translators. The professor wrote an introduction and edited the translation so the professor's name is also on the title page as editor.

Recently, it has come to my attention that the professor, who is now an emeritus professor, is claiming to be the sole author. I recently attended a conference where the professor gave the keynote address. The professor was introduced as the sole author of this book. I decided not to say anything at the time since the introduction was spoken and I couldn't prove that my name wasn't mentioned. However, I recently came across the professor's written biography on the internet where the claim is made that "[the professor's] book presents an edition, translation and . . . commentary" of the treatise.

Should the professor mention my name in connection with the translation in such a circumstance? If so, how do I go about getting the professor to do this?

I should mention that the professor has done many collaborative projects and in every case other than our book, the other collaborators are mentioned in the biography. Also, there is a long history of my having to remind this professor to acknowledge my work. Before our book was published, the professor gave a conference paper on the treatise and didn't mention that I had translated it. When I call it to the professor's attention, the professor said it was an oversight. The next time it happened and I mentioned it to the professor, I was told that the project could have been done without me. Every time it has come up, there is a new excuse.

There is no question in my mind that the professor is intentionally leaving me out. My question is whether it is worth pursuing since my name is on the title page of the book itself as a co-translator and other scholars will see it there. It really bothers me that the professor is claiming credit for my work by omitting my name.

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    Why bother, your name is on the first page of the book, and you are a co-author of that book no matter what the professor is saying. – Mikey Mike Sep 1 '16 at 14:33
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    @MikeyMike So what if a member of the audience then believes the other author is the sole author, then meets OP and the topic comes up, and OP claims to be a co-author? The member of the audience will just think OP is lying (why, the emeritus professor who gave the keynote presentation said so...), and it can be hard to correct an impression like this. – user9646 Sep 1 '16 at 14:49
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    In his CV/publication list, does he list the full citation with your name? In bios, it's not typical to list all co-authors when mentioning a publication, and when someone says "X's book" in a bio it doesn't imply that X is the sole author. (If he does mention collaborators for other publications, it's probably because the other authors are well-known and he's name-dropping.) – ff524 Sep 1 '16 at 15:01
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    @Najib: I find what you suggest rather unlikely. Academics don't determine authorship of publications by hearsay; they do it by carefully checking bibliographical data. Let me follow up by saying that in my field, mentioning some but not all of the authors of a work can certainly be construed as rude. – Pete L. Clark Sep 2 '16 at 15:24
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    @Najib: I don't carefully check the bibliographical data of every work mentioned during a conference, but I will certainly check that before assuming that someone who told me they are a coauthor is lying! Why would you assume someone is lying when you can check for yourself? – Pete L. Clark Sep 2 '16 at 18:21

Let's take some of these points in turn.

My co-author is claiming to be the sole author.

That's not right -- neither of you is the author. By conflating the difference between author and translator, aren't you doing a disservice to the author roughly similar to what your professor is doing to you?

I should also say that in my academic field (mathematics), translating a text is viewed as service to the community rather than an intellectual or academic contribution per se. I know it is different in the humanities.

The professor claimed to have "reworked" my translation and we are both credited on the title page as translators.

Why "claimed" -- did he or didn't he? You seem to be a bit breezy on your description of the work that the professor did on this project. Again, it would be better to be clear. If the professor didn't actually change your translation, then the translation should be attributed only to you, right?

The professor wrote an introduction and edited the translation so the professor's name is also on the title page as editor.

So the professor edited the translation. I wonder if there is some subtle distinction between "editing" and "reworking" that I am not appreciating: does the latter imply a larger intellectual contribution? Again, how much of an intellectual contribution are you claiming the professor made? That seems important.

From my standpoint in a STEM field, it seems like editing a translation is a contribution of about the same order of magnitude as writing the translation...but again, I tend to think of translations as being somewhat routine work for those who have language skills. Maybe I am missing some nuances here. But certainly writing an introduction and finding a publisher is a big part of, um, getting a work published. So from what I understand it seems reasonable that you are both listed as translators on the title page.

Recently, it has come to my attention that the professor, who is now an emeritus professor, is claiming to be the sole author.

That's a very strange claim to make when the book itself says otherwise. In my experience, academics are highly attentive to bibliographic information like this.

I recently attended a conference where the professor gave the keynote address. I recently attended a conference where the professor gave the keynote address. The professor was introduced as the sole author of this book.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean. First of all: really as the author of a translated work? Second of all: do you mean "Professor X's book Y, which is [hopefully something about a translation of someone else's work!]" or "Professor X is the sole author of book Y, which is..." The latter would be a really weird thing to say even if it were true, and the former, while not very nice to you, need not be construed as denying your role.

However, I recently came across the professor's written biography on the internet where the claim is made that "[the professor's] book presents an edition, translation and . . . commentary" of the treatise.

Again, this does not strictly imply that you were not also an author. Whether this is okay may depend upon how formal the document is. If it is formal enough to give bibliographic citations, then your name should certainly be included in the bibliography.

Should the professor mention my name in connection with the translation in such a circumstance? If so, how do I go about getting the professor to do this?

Is this biography written by the professor or by someone else? If it's by someone else, you should just send them the bibliographic reference, perhaps accompanied by an electronic copy of the title page of the book.

should mention that the professor has done many collaborative projects and in every case other than our book, the other collaborators are mentioned in the biography. Also, there is a long history of my having to remind this professor to acknowledge my work. Before our book was published, the professor gave a conference paper on the treatise and didn't mention that I had translated it. When I call it to the professor's attention, the professor said it was an oversight. The next time it happened and I mentioned it to the professor, I was told that the project could have been done without me. Every time it has come up, there is a new excuse.

That sounds horrible, and there is no doubt that the professor is behaving inappropriately. "[T]he project could be have been done without [you]" is by no means a justification for not including a coauthor's name! No reputable academic would accept that answer.

My question is whether it is worth pursuing since my name is on the title page of the book itself as a co-translator and other scholars will see it there. It really bothers me that the professor is claiming credit for my work by omitting my name.

You raise a key point: you've described various venues in which your coauthorship was not mentioned, I believe inappropriately, but these are all rather informal. As I mentioned above, academics are very formal when it comes to bibliographic issues. When the work is cited in other academic works, both you and your professor's names appear, right? (If the work is not cited in other academic works, after this many years it might be best to let it go.) So I don't think there's a serious risk of loss of your academic reputation. (Note that you don't say whether you are currently an academic, so the consequences of a loss of academic reputation to you are a little unclear.)

Honestly, I think you should do something else if and only if you are very upset with the professor. If so, I would begin by writing to him along the lines of the current message: remind him of the facts of the situation, tell him that his behavior has been distressing to you for many years, and tell him that you want your name mentioned along with his. Be prepared for that not to go very well, of course. If it doesn't, well then you can fight webpages with webpages: you can make a webpage where you describe the situation in enough detail to firmly convince a reader that you are in the right. I have occasionally seen such webpages by academics, and if they are done well they certainly have an effect on the community's views. They also reveal to the entire world how upset the writer is with the situation, so definitely think several times before engaging in this.

  • Pete, you are missing some nuances, perhaps because the description is not clear. Translations require awareness of the historical and cultural context of the work, beyond mere knowledge of the language. Good translations are rarely "routine". – Andrés E. Caicedo Sep 2 '16 at 15:00
  • @Andres: As I said, things are different in different fields. I know that in some parts of the humanities, scholars can be most famous for their translations. I know that translation is not viewed as "routine" in these fields. (I do think it is mostly viewed that way in our field, but that's a separate issue.) What I was saying was that editing a translation -- or rather, editing it sufficiently well -- seems to require most or all of the same skills as doing the translation in the first place. Here I assume that the editing is done with the original text also in hand! – Pete L. Clark Sep 2 '16 at 15:21
  • "That's not right -- neither of you is the author. By conflating the difference between author and translator, aren't you doing a disservice to the author roughly similar to what your professor is doing to you?_ -- I see your point. In referring to the professor and myself as co-authors, I am going by the publishing contract. I understand that the real author is the artist of the treatise. The contract says that both the professor and myself together are the AUTHOR of the edition of the treatise by the artist. It doesn't even call us co-authors--just the AUTHOR. – user61160 Sep 4 '16 at 12:52

This strikes me as a "borderline" or "shady" issue. Basically, the professor is trying to maximize his visibility at your expense, something he wouldn't do with a more senior colleague.

From the look of it, he's done the bare minimum for you legally. In other situations, I've advised the OP to "see a lawyer" but I'm not doing so here. To use a phrase made famous by a former American President, the professor's actions look to be "legally accurate but not volunteering information."

  • The question has the tag ethics, not the tag legal-issues... – user9646 Sep 1 '16 at 16:24
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    @NajibIdrissi: That's one reason I said that I was not recommending that he see a lawyer, even though I have done so for other posts. The professor's actions appear to me to be unethical, but not illegal. (But I would say "see a lawyer" if I thought there were legal issues, tags notwithstanding.) – Tom Au Sep 1 '16 at 16:39
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    Well your answer is exclusively about the legal side of the question even though the OP is asking about the ethical side... – user9646 Sep 2 '16 at 10:24
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    If there is a legal side to the question, I would be interested in hearing people's thoughts on it. What kind of lawyer would I need to see about it--an intellectual property lawyer? I agree that the professor is probably not doing anything illegal. Despite many previous attempts (in the form of letters) to remind the professor to acknowledge my work where appropriate, over and over again the professor fails to do so. I've talked to lawyers in the past, but they don't seem to think my problem is big enough for them to handle. Currently, I'm not in a financial position to engage a lawyer. – user61160 Sep 2 '16 at 11:11
  • @NajibIdrissi: My answer is not "exclusively' about legal side of the question. By referring to a "borderline" or "shady" issue in the first paragraph., I took care to contrast the legality of what was done as opposed to the "ethicality." That's a useful contrast. The "legal" part appeared only in the second paragraphy. – Tom Au Sep 3 '16 at 0:22

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