Bundling some things I posted elsewhere, exploring

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Coursera’s Global Translator Community: puzzling Translator Agreement(s)

Second update Nov. 6 2014

Access to, mentioned in the description of the D version of the Translator Agreement, has now been blocked, as well as all the other pages of the subdirectory.

Update Nov. 6 2014

Yesterday, I found out that there is a fourth version of the Translator Agreement. I’m updating this post in italics accordingly

Three (actually four) Translator Agreements

There have been three versions of the Translator Agreement in the 6 months of the GTC:

(For easier comparison, I had put the  first three versions side by side in a table, which can be downloaded from Should there be differences between C and D, I’ll make a new table).

While B only corrected some obvious mistakes (typo, wrong contact address), C’s has introduced several important changes. Here I’ll concentrate on those to the part defining the property of volunteers’ translations.

Ownership of volunteer’s translations and “work for hire”

C adds a new sentence at the beginning of this part:

Coursera’s licensors place strict obligations on Coursera to protect their intellectual property rights in the licensed content included as part of Coursera courses.

This addition leads to a rewording of the following sentence: where A and B formerly read:

As between Coursera and you, Coursera owns all right, title, and interest to:
1) the copyright or other intellectual property or proprietary right to the translations and translated works (collectively “Translations”), and
2) the Coursera name and logo.

C now reads:

As a result, Coursera must require its translators to agree under this Agreement, that Coursera owns all right, title, and interest to: [rest of the sentence unchanged]

So what was presented as Coursera’s decision in A and B is now presented in C as something imposed by its licensors, i.e. by the universities and institutions who actually provide the courses.

C also changes significantly the part defining volunteers’ translations as “work for hire”.  A and B read:


But the corresponding part in C says

To the extent that you are creating translations and translated works (collectively the “Translations”) at the request and for the benefit of Coursera, you agree that the Translations will be works made for hire to the extent permitted by applicable law, and Coursera will retain all copyright, patent, trade secret, trademark and any other intellectual property or proprietary rights (“Intellectual Property Rights”) in the Translations

So C replaces the reference to Section 101 of the U.S. Copyright Act with the vaguer “to the extent permitted by applicable law”.In fact, Section 101 of the U.S. Copyright Act actually says:

A “work made for hire” is—
(1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or
(2) a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work,(…) if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.

Definition (1) does not apply to GTC volunteers, as section “8. Relation” says “Nothing in this Agreement creates or will be deemed to create an employer-‐employee, partnership, joint venture, or agency relationship between Coursera and you.” And as to definition (2), Coursera never provided volunteers with a written instrument each should agree to and sign. Therefore the reference to that section of the U.S: Copyright Act did not make sense.

However, after that, the Agreement says:

If any of the Translations do not qualify as works made for hire, you hereby assign to Coursera all right, title and interest and all Intellectual Property Rights in the Translations, and if requested by Coursera will deliver a written assignment any other documents necessary to establish Coursera’s Intellectual Property Rights.

(from the C version, which summarizes the same concept, expressed in a heavier and more long-winded way, in A and B)

In other words, whether their translations qualify or not as work for hire, volunteers must cede all rights on their translations, including their moral rights, to Coursera.

No more “good and valuable consideration”


This  is a soberly realistic deletion, because as explained in the course shell / collaboration platform that Coursera has chosen for the GTC: no recognition at all is granted to volunteers who translate fewer than 2500 words “of consistent  high-quality”.

For those who meet this requirement, there is a mention in the public Meet Our Translators page. That mention is not likely to impress a potential employer. Anyway, that page only lists 1011 [unchanged Nov 2] * volunteers, against “14064* persons contributing” indicated  by Transifex, the online collaborative translation tool chosen by Coursera for the GTC,  except for the 12183* Russian translators, who use a tool made by ABBY LS – see – and are therefore not included in the Transifex figure.

Hence, that  “Meet Our Translators” only lists  less than 4% of volunteer translators.  Even by a very conservative estimate of only 100 words translated in average by each of the 24033 unmentioned volunteers, Coursera is getting over 2’400’000 words translated for free, without offering any kind of recognition to their translators.
Then for volunteers who translate 15’000 words, there is a Statetement of Accomplishment, and above 75’000 words, there is a Statement of Accomplishment with Distinction. However, these are the same Statements of Accomplishment that Coursera is presently scrapping for course participants, and which Daphne Koller merrily debunked as mere personal mementoes and explained how to easily fake in a hangout for the GTC on May 15, 2014 (from 18:37 in the YouTube archived version).

Moreover, Coursera uses a script that is meant to assign these forms of recognition by elaborating the statistical data provided by Transifex. Hence the Russian volunteers, who don’t use Transifex, are not covered, and even for the Transifex-using volunteers, this script often doesn’t work properly.

Therefore, since October 23, 2014, Coursera is asking volunteers who are entitled to a form of recognition but didn’t get it, or who translate into Russian, to fill a recognition request … in a Google Drive form: in spite of the fact that it recognizes in its public Web page describing the GTC that these Google Drive forms can’t be accessed in China and in other countries.

So all in all, it does indeed make sense to stop pretending that Coursera offers translators “good and valuable consideration” for their work.


All three versions of the Translator Agreement say, under “10. Miscellaneous”:

Except where expressly provided otherwise, the Agreement may only be amended in writing signed by both you and Coursera.

And Coursera has not submitted to GTC volunteers any written text about amendments for them to sign before changing the Translator Agreement from version A to B, and then to C.

* As of Nov. 4, 2014. However the 4% proportion of volunteers getting any form of Coursera recognition has remained fairly stable so far.