When I was a kid I used to hike the hills above the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California collecting rattlesnakes. These usually ended up as food for my king snake or as tasty barbecued snacks and soups. Even as an eight-year old, I was responsible for killing and cleaning my own snakes, and one of the things that fascinated me about those rattlesnakes is how they kept on twitching even after the heads were cut off. Watching a snake dance across a barbecue grill is a strange sight.
Just as strange to me is how some businesses continue to twitch even after they are killed legally. Take Language Promotion GmbH in Zurich, for example. I've reported a number of times in this blog what the modus operandi of that company's owner, Dominic de Neuville is, and a quick look at any of the payments practices lists for translators online soon makes it clear that there are a lot of people out there waiting for a lot of money. In vain it would appear, since Language Promotion GmbH was declared insolvent. This occurred some months ago. But here's the strange part: when I look this evening at the ex-company's web site at http://www.language-promotion.com/CHCOM/index2.php?content=content_ueber_uns, for example, I see that the pages are alive and well, advertising services for a company that no longer exists.
But stranger still: the means of contact still work! And the addresses and telephone numbers for all the forwarding services posing as business offices in Switzerland and Austria are the same as those for a shadowy business calling itself Transit: http://www.transitweb.ch/index2.php?content=content_kontakt. I am told by my contacts in Zurich that this business is not in the commercial register and under Swiss law should bear the name of its operator, once again Mr. Dominic de Neuville. Twitch, twitch.
What does all this mean and why is it important? I'm not sure. It does, however, raise some interesting questions about business succession and possible personal liability of the owner for matters having to do with the now-insolvent GmbH. If the web pages of the dead company Language Promotion GmbH continue to feed potential business to this "Transit", is the new business in some way liable for at least part of the debt for the defunct company? Do the translators left out in the cold with no compensation for their work have a chance of collecting after all?
I don't know the answer to that question, but I am told that when it was raised at a judicial proceeding in another matter last week that the judge, a former collections official, implied that this might be the case. It's a matter worth investigating for those who have a significant amount to collect, and if the Swiss laws allow, it might even be interesting to see some sort of collective action, perhaps by assignment of invoices to a factor or something similar.
Translation agencies that do not treat their freelance translators well (and I think it's fair to say that nonpayers fall in this category) typically have to rely on continual transfusions of talent as they suck the blood out of one service provider (i.e. freelancer) after another. But there are always naive persons willing to take the bait and accept a project for which they have little hope of payment. Read the ProZ forums: there you'll find plenty of threads started by newbies who don't even think to agree on a price before taking a project, doing the translation and delivering a job. How many of these will practice due diligence? Not many I suspect. So take heart, thieves: there will always be a good living to be made unless someone realizes that the hunting season for pigs is year-round in most countries. And as I noted with the example in my essay on juggling snakes, even with "payment in advance" there are possibilities to be bitten.
So translators, look out for your own interests. If you work with agencies, stick to the many thousands of honest ones out there and avoid the rot at the bottom of the barrel. And if despite all due diligence you still get caught out or you are just having a "stupid day" when you unwisely take a project from a nonpayer, remember that you retain the copyright until you are paid and this can be the lever you need to pry the cash loose.
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