Volume 11, No. 4 
October 2007

  Danilo Nogueira

  Front Page  
Select one of the previous 41 issues.


Index 1997-2007

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
On the Importance of Schmoozing
by Alexandra Russsell-Bitting
Standing Tall in the Profession: Interview with Alexandra Russell-Bitting
by Verónica Albin

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee

  Translators Around the World
Maltese Translation in Transition
by Janet Mallia

  TJ Cartoon
Great Moments in Languages — Gift from Heaven
by Ted Crump

  Translation Theory
Synonymy in Translation
by Said M. Shiyab, Ph.D.

  Translation Nuts and Bolts
Romance Gender Benders: Gender of Nouns in the Romance languages
by Carl Stoll

  Legal Translation
El diccionario jurídico español-árabe como herramienta útil para la traducción en el ámbito del Derecho y la mediación intercultural
Aguessim El Ghazouani Abdellatif

  Book Review
Blue Lines on Black Ink: A Look at a New Book on Censorship and Translation
by Verónica Albin
A Non-Native User's Perspective of Corpus-Based Dictionaries of English and French
by Estela Carvalho
Hey, counsel, you've plagiarized my book!
by Danilo Nogueira
Engenheiros do Destino/Engineers of Fate de/by José Lamensdorf
Dayse Batista

  Translator Education
How New Technologies Improve Translation Pedagogy
by María José Varela

  Arts & Entertainment
A to Z of Screenplay Translation
by Alireza Ameri

Eileen Chang's Translation of The Golden Cangue
by Deng Jing

  Translators' Tools
Creating the Ideal Word Processing Environment in Translation Environment Tools
by Jost Zetzsche
Manual MT Post-editing: “if it's not broken, don't fix it!”
by Rafael Guzmán
Linguoc LexTerm: una herramienta de extracción automática de terminología gratuita
Antoni Oliver, Mercè Vázquez, Joaquim Moré
Translators’ Emporium

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

Translators' Events

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal

Book Review

Hey, Counsel, You've Plagiarized My Book!

by Danilo Nogueira

  1. Introduction
  2. urval Noronha Goyos Jr. is a Brazilian lawyer who thought he should have a book published and call it a Legal Dictionary. I own a copy of the 3rd edition, dated 1998. The dust cover glows with praise from several sources, including the ITI, ATA and several entities connected with the world of law and order; inside the book, there are another three pages full quotes praising the book.

    Does Noronha's book qualify as a dictionary?

    It is just one of those rough-and-ready bilingual wordlists loosely put together by the staff in offices where they have to cope with a foreign language.
    I have never put much stock in Noronha's. I do not even think it deserves to be called a dictionary. It is just one of those rough-and-ready bilingual wordlists loosely put together by the staff in offices where they have to cope with a foreign language. People just go and throw in everything that comes to their minds on the quod abundat non nocet principle, so dear to Brazilian lawyers. Noronha's book provides no usage notes, no examples, no collocations, no explanations. Nothing but a term, a hyphen and one or more translations. For instance, it tells you

    • frutos = fruits; income; gains; earnings; exitus.

    and leaves you free to make your choice undeterred by any additional information such as in what contexts each of the five translations is appropriate. The fact that using exitus to translate frutos is very dangerous, to say the least, does not seem to be reason for concern. It also tells you

    • intoxication = intoxicação.

    and fails to mention that intoxication translates both as intoxicação (what happens when you eat bad fish) and embriaguez (what happens when you have just had a couple beers with the guys) and nobody ever gets arrested for driving while intoxicado, but driving while embriagado may get you in trouble with the law. In other ways, it does not give you the translations most likely to appear in legal contexts. The book also has

    • hide = couro.

    Couro means raw or tanned pelt, a sense which has no place in a legal dictionary. However, there is no translation for hide in the sense of hiding place. Noronha's also informs you that

    • hobby losses = imposto que incide em atividade que não gera lucros.

    How can they do that! Imposto means tax, not losses. My best back translation is tax on activities that do not generate profits, whatever such a tax may be. As if we did not have enough taxes, already. But my all-time favorite is

    • high = alto; termo de endereçamento de dignidade.

    This entry deserves a bit more attention. Endereço means address in the sense of street address and endereçamento means the act of writing down a street address on an envelope so that the postperson can deliver it to the addressee (destinatário). The Gettysburg Address decidedly is not an endereço and a public address system is not a sistema de endereçamento, and terms of address are formas de tratamento. Termo de endereçamento is absolute nonsense. In addition, I cannot really see how high can be a term of address, but who knows where they get the information they put into that book.

    But let me stop, for my purpose is not to denigrate anybody's work—God forbid—just to tell a story of alleged plagiarism. So, let's proceed. Not before saying that rare is the page without half-a-dozen funny entries like those pointed out above.

    Success attracts imitation

    The book, despite its faults, was more of a success than specialized dictionaries are expected to be. It had very little competition. There is a far more reliable legal dictionary by Maria Chaves de Mello, but it has fewer entries and thus Noronha's in a way has always been the work of choice if you wanted to have just one legal dictionary, on the grounds it was bigger than Chaves de Mello and thus arguably more complete.

    The competition appeared in 2004 with a book by Maurício Faragone and Ricardo Pignatari, (F+P) which received an impressive press coverage and was hallowed as a lexicographical breakthrough, the product of many years' work in translation, and became known, in certain circles, as the Dicionário "Carta Capital" because of its association with a publication targeted at the business community.

    Faragone is a lawyer, Pignatari is a translator, so, it seemed to be a perfect authorial combination. I am under the impression that Pignatari and a couple other people did most of the drudgework and Faragone contributed his prestige, but I am probably too bitchy.

    I never bought F+P for several reasons which do not require analysis at this time, so I cannot pass judgment on the opus. I did open it in a bookstore though and was not impressed; the breakthrough was just another wordlist, disposed in two columns, with the markings of having been conceived by someone not very knowledgeable about lexicographical technique. Several people liked what they saw, however: the book sold well, among other things because it was bigger than Noronha's, and consequently a lot bigger than Chaves de Mello's. The fact that Chaves de Mello is more reliable fails to make an impression on many people, regrettably.

    Sue the bastards!

    Durval Noronha and his publisher, Observador Legal Editora Limitada, were decidedly not amused by the new entry in the market. They bought a copy of the new book as soon as it was out and did not like what they saw. And, as is the wont of irate lawyers, Durval Noronha Goyos Jr, esq. went to court.

    He did not go to court personally, of course. He knows a lawyer who pleads his own case has a fool for a client and, jointly with his publisher, retained the services of Clito Fornaciari Júnior, who filed suit against Faragone, Pignatari and their publishers on behalf of Noronha and his publisher. A suit for plagiarism. For plaintiffs claimed F+P was just a bad copy of Noronha's work, and a bad disguised one at that.

    The complaint was filed in São Paulo and I will spare you most of the particulars. May it suffice to say that it was assigned number 04.127327-3, dated December 14, 2004 and allotted to the 24th Civil Court of São Paulo Central Forum.

    Besides seeking a declaration that F+P had plagiarized Noronha's, plaintiffs sought to have the edition seized and destroyed and, of course, compensation for their losses, for they alleged that people who bought F+P did not buy Noronha's, despite the fact that a few people had both. They also sought to have defendants ordered not to market the book, which was fair enough.

    The complaint alleged that defendant had copied literally 5,533 of the 17,442 entries of the English-Portuguese Section and 13,692 of the 16,691 of the Portuguese-English section of Noronha's work, and that, in many other cases, the copy was slightly disguised by an all-too-thin veil. Defendants claimed partial repetition in a bilingual book is unavoidable: how can you possibly avoid translating law as lei? They even found someone who attested their work was not a copy of Noronha's.

    Call the cavalry!

    The judge decided to call the cavalry, so to say, and appointed Rena Signer as court expert. Now, Rena Signer is no lawyer, as far as I know, but she does have a solid background in lexicography and that made a difference.

    Under Brazilian law, both sides are entitled to appoint an assistant to the court-appointed expert and submit questions to be answered in the expert's report, which they did. The expert for plaintiffs was Stella Tagnin, a well-known professor at the respected Universidade de São Paulo—USP with a strong interest in corpus linguistics and lexicography.

    How do you tell it is a copy, anyway?

    The problem is, how can you tell if it is case of plagiarism? Plaintiff says X% of entries identical and Y% quasi-identical, so it is a copy. Defendant says there is no way you can publish a legal dictionary without saying that plaintiff is autor da ação and we are back to square one.

    The decision can be read here and is full of praise for the expert report. I have not read the report, but the brief excerpts quoted by judge Wagner Roby Gídaro in his decision gives a good idea of the approach adopted and that deserves special mention and, perhaps, a short digression into cartography.

    An interlude about cartography

    From time to time, someone points out that something found in a map does not exist. Often those are plagiarism traps, wrong information included on purpose to help detect copies. In other words, Alpha Map Co. publishes a map of NYC and introduces a few nonexistent entities where they are expected not do much harm, such as a short blind alley out of a secondary street or the name of neighborhood nobody has really heard of. If one of those nonexistent entities is found in a map marketed by the Beta Map Co., it is good evidence that the map was plagiarized from Alpha's. Makes sense.

    I don't for a minute think Noronha's people introduced errors in their opus as plagiarism traps, but the expert report dwells on the fact that an error that appears in both works indicates plagiarism. Therefore, instead of simply quantifying similarities, as was perhaps expected, the report specifically dwells on common shortcomings.

    That is, it assumes that if both say law is lei, this in itself does not prove plagiarism, because a legal dictionary should include the word law, and its rightful translation, that is lei. However, if both translate beleguim as bailiff's official; police agent in the Portuguese-English part and neither has police agent : beleguim in the English-Portuguese part, that may be a bit suspicious. Not to mention that fact that both neglect to say that beleguim is a term of strong derision. The Court considered the number of common shortcomings high enough to declare F+P had plagiarized Noronha's.

    The sentence

    The judge did not grant the tutela antecipada, a type of interim relief, on the grounds there was no harm in waiting. But all the other remedies sought were granted. Defendants were ordered to (a) collect all copies of F+P from bookstores, cease any publicity concerning the book and not to sell the book, under penalty of a fine equal to three times the cover price of each copy sold (currently R$ 120.00) or R$ 50,000.00, if the resulting sales cannot be quantified and (b) pay R$ 360,000.00 in damages, plus an adjustment to compensate for inflation since the day the complaint was filed. Finally, defendants were condemned to pay plaintiff R$ 10.000,00 as a refund for legal costs and lawyers' fees, under the rule known as sucumbência in Brazil and referred to as English rule or loser-pay— all in Black's Law Dictionary

    The day after

    F+P is no longer available from brick-and-mortar or web bookshops. Faragone stated it will not be published again. It may become a collector's item, sold at high prices in second-hand bookshops. Faragone also alleges plagiarism exists when there is the intent to make a profit and adds that his purpose was simply "institutional" although it was sold at the same price as an ordinary "commercial" book would.

    The Tribunal de Justiça informs that defendants have filed an appeal. This being a fight between lawyers, and Brazilian Civil Procedure being what it is, the war of appeals may take several years. In any case, I don't think Noronha is interested in the money. He wanted his revenge and has had it, so he is probably happy with things as they are.

    Redeeming feature

    As I said in the beginning, I have never bought F+P. But last Monday I paid a visit to a colleague who had and took a look at it. There was no time for a full comparison, but I could not resist checking the entry for high. The forma de endereçamento de dignidade was not there. So, F+P has at least one redeeming feature. It may have more, of course.


    As I said in the beginning, I have never put much stock in Noronha's. It was, however, something empirical, impressionistic. In 2005, while attending a translators' conference held in Rio by ABRATES, the Brazilian Association of Translators, I met Luciana Carvalho, a rising star in our small world. She conducted an all-too-short but devastating session on the shortcomings of English-Portuguese legal dictionaries. Later, she wrote an MA dissertation on the same subject, under the guidance of professor Stella Tagnin, the same person who took part in Noronha vs. Faragone, Pignatari et al. as an assistant to the court-appointed expert. Anyone who is interested in publishing a book and calling it a dictionary, legal or otherwise, should have a good, long, careful look at her dissertation.

    Luciana (who also has a law degree) was kind enough to help me form a better picture of the case, but the entire responsibility for the comments is mine and my comments are based on my own impressions, not on her findings.