Do We “Translate” or “Interpret” Foreign Legal Texts?

Today’s Read:

Mateusz Zeifert and Zygmunt Tobor, Legal Translation Versus Legal Interpretation: A Legal-Theoretical Perspective, International Journal for the Semiotics of Law – Revue internationale de Sémiotique juridique volume 35, pages 1671–1687 (2022), available open access at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11196-021-09837-7.

I’ve often thought about this question when it comes to foreign legal texts. Law librarians are asked to find translations of foreign statutes and cases all the time, and in my opinion this is one of the most problematic requests that we deal with, especially when the researcher wants a quick answer.

To make a translation of a normative legal document like a statute or a code (or, especially in common law jurisdictions, a judicial opinion) useful to someone who does not read the language it was originally written in, what needs to be done to it? Does it need to be merely translated, or does it need to be interpreted also?

If it’s the latter, then the problem of machine-generate translations like those rendered by Google Translate is immediately obvious. Computers, alas, are inferior interpreters to humans for a task like this, especially if those humans have legal training and knowledge. I firmly believe that computers will never be able to reason their way through ambiguities in legal texts as well as a person can. There are too many variables at play that just can’t be programmed.

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Hartog on Hurst, and Why Zotero 6 is a Total Game-Changer

Today’s Read:
Hendrik Hartog, Four Fragments on Doing Legal History, or Thinking with and Against Willard Hurst, Law and History Review, v. 39, issue 4, pp. 835-865 (Nov. 2021) (Open Access: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0738248021000626)

In my last post, I talked about how I still get Harper’s magazine in print in the mail and like to mark it up with a pen. I even showed a picture of the ink-covered article that I was discussing. At the time, I really thought that nothing could match pen-and-ink annotating of printed-out articles.

Reader, I may have been mis-informed.

One of our SJD students is also one of my Twitter mutuals. He tweeted out a link to this article by Hendrik Hartog this morning and said that he “couldn’t get it out of his head.” If that is not a compelling invitation to read and blog about an article, I don’t know what is.

I’ll get to some substance about the article in a minute, but first let me talk about why this experience has shown me that Zotero 6 is, truly, a game-changer.

I have been, at best, a half-hearted Zotero user in the past. I recently had to get a new laptop at work, which meant downloading and installing the newest version of the app, Zotero 6. I have offered Zotero training to our researchers for a few years now, since it is the only CMS that Harvard offers university-wide for free, and some of our LLM and SJD students have reported that it really helped them stay organized and efficient. This is why I forced myself to use it before – so that I knew exactly what it could do and answer questions from students about it.

With the release of Zotero 6 in April 2022, the platform now comes with a built-in PDF Reader and Note Editor.

Y’all, the stuff just got real with this new feature.

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On “Work” Done By “COVID Maximalists”

Today’s Read:
Justin E.H. Smith, Permanent Pandemic, Harper’s (May/June 2022)
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I subscribe to the print version of Harper’s magazine. I like to mark up the articles while I read them, and that’s hard to do on a phone or a computer.

The main essay in the most recent issue certainly has a lot of mark-worthy content:

Picture of an open magazine, with the text heavily marked up (including underlines, circles, and notes) in purple and pink ink.

I am actually considering writing a few blog posts on this article because there was so much there.

But I have to start with the author’s description of who a typical “COVID maximalist” is:

“The maximalists typically belong to a distinct social class (my own, incidentally) in which it is financially possible to stay home and ‘work’ (i.e. manipulate the windows on our laptops in various prescribed ways) at a distance from our employers.”

Well.

I feel the need to explore why that sentence landed as such an insult to me, and made me feel angry and defensive. To get into that, I have to talk about the public service ethos surrounding librarianship and how that didn’t really go away for any of us despite being stuck at home for months and months.

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Privacy and Dignity

Note: After a two-year break, I am back! Basically, thanks to the pandemic, my blogging went from occasional to never. This is a place where I write a few words about something that I am reading that I find striking, interesting, informative, or infuriating. I used to spend half a day or longer on these posts before, which is not sustainable. So my goal moving forward is to really keep it to a few words.

Today’s Read:
Lawrence M. Friedman, A Tale of Two Cultures: Privacy and Dignity, in Gesellschaft und Gerechtigkeit: Festschrift für Hubert Rottleuthner 273 (2011).

So I guess privacy and dignity have been on my mind recently, especially given the leaked SCOTUS opinion in the abortion case. What does it mean to have and enjoy the right to privacy and the right to dignity?

Friedman’s essay, written in 2011, is more concerned with the ideas of “privacy” and “dignity” as they relate to people who are in the public eye and impacted by celebrity culture. Although that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I was drawn to this essay by its title, it still offers some universally thoughtworthy ideas.

This essay asks, as a fundamental inquiry, how much responsibility the law, as interpreted and exercised by judges, has an obligation to protect people and culture from corrupt and damaging thoughts and ideas. It argues that European courts, in contrast to those in the United States, sometimes operate under the conviction that “not everything that interests the public is in the public interest.”

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Legal Scholarship and the Expectations of Old, Western White Guys

Today’s Read:
Alonso Gurmendi and Paula Baldini Miranda da Cruz, Writing in International Law and Cultural Barriers (Part I), August 7, 2020, http://opiniojuris.org/2020/08/07/writing-in-international-law-and-cultural-barriers-part-i/

It’s getting to be that time of year. I’m staying afloat, and feeling OK and reasonably productive, but waves of emails and requests and things that need to be done ASAP are threatening to pull me under if I’m not careful. Alas, COVID hasn’t really changed the volume or urgency of the work in my world, I’m afraid. At least I don’t spend 90 minutes a day commuting right now. But whether I am always using that found 90 minutes productively is a different story.

Anyway, I wanted to get in a read before the crush of the fall semester is here. I did myself a favor and chose a short blog post this time, and I am so glad I did! This wonderful piece by Alonso Gurmendi and Paula Baldini Miranda da Cruz really got me thinking about language and legal commentary. It allowed me to further contemplate some of the thinking I was doing in my last blog post, in which I explored the legal canon, who decides what’s in it, and how librarians may be complicit in that system: a system that definitely fails to amplify minority voices.

Well. We who care about legal literature must ask ourselves what place foreign-trained legal scholars, especially those who are not native English speakers, have in that literature, mustn’t we?

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Who Decides What’s In “The Canon”?

Today’s Read: Alexandra Kemmerer, Juristische Kanonfragen: Andere Auffassungen nähren die Neugier (Legal Canon Questions: Other Views Feed Curiosity), July 27, 2020, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, https://www.faz.net/aktuell/wissen/geist-soziales/juristische-kanonfragen-gegenprobe-auf-den-juristischen-kanon-16682327.html.

Today’s read is a short newspaper article written by my friend Alexandra Kemmerer, who is a Berlin-based senior fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (located in Heidelberg).  She also writes for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, which is where this article was published.

This article is in German, and it stretched me in terms of both language and substance, so I hope I get everything right AND can do it justice.  I also want to use it as a springboard for some thoughts I have about how the concept of the canon affects academic librarianship.

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Who were the Members of the Nazi Party?: An Empirical Study

Today’s Read:  Christian Stass, NSDAP: Neun Millionen Deutsche…, Die Zeit, June 24, 2020, https://www.zeit.de/2020/27/juergen-w-falter-nationalsozialismus-nsdap-politologie/komplettansicht.

I have spent a lot of time over the last few months, as have many other thoughtful people I know, wondering about Trump supporters.  Who are these people, and what motivates them to not only have supported Trump in 2016, but also to continue to support him in spite (or maybe because) of his performance over the last few years?

A few archetypal traits keep coming to my mind when I think about who Trump supporters are, shaped by several factors, such as people I know who support him (including many members of my own family) and the media.

For better or worse, here is the list:

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Copyright Law Impacts How Libraries Provide Access to E-Books: During a Pandemic, Should It?

Today’s Read:
Congressional Research Service (CRS), COVID-19 and Libraries: E-Books and Intellectual Property Issues (Apr. 28, 2020), https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/LSB/LSB10453

This topic has been on my mind a lot since we all went on lockdown and couldn’t access physical books anymore.  The pandemic has not stopped research, of course.  There are still deadlines to be met.

My focus, as always, is on supporting our LLM students.  They cannot graduate without submitting a research paper, and some of them were still doing research as late as April (the original deadline for LLM papers this year was April 25, although many students got extensions).  To have their access to our print collection blocked by circumstances of fate was very unfair, and I felt so badly for them.

Not to make light of what is a very serious global health pandemic, but there are, of course, a few not-negative ways to spin this.  It wasn’t as if only some of the students could not access print books — the restriction affected everyone equally.  Furthermore, LLM theses are not graded on a curve, at least not as far as I know.  The students do not compete against each other.  When you are writing an LLM thesis, the goal is to do the best and most thoroughly-researched paper you can possibly do under the circumstances you find yourself.

When I was writing my own LLM thesis, I had about 6 weeks to do the bulk of the work because, in Germany, you are not permitted to begin work on your thesis until you finish your LLM coursework.  My leave of absence was nearly over by then, and I really needed to get back to my job in the library (where I had a quick look at some relevant resources in Harvard’s library collection, in addition to wrapping up the writing and editing).  I made it work the best I could.  Could my thesis have been better?  Absolutely, if I hadn’t felt so rushed to gather and process sources, and then pound it out.  But it got done, and it got a decent grade, and I was able to finish my LLM.

I tell that story to show that I really feel for the students, in whatever circumstances they find themselves.  And where they were finding themselves during the final few months of this academic year was locked out of the library, with no access to print books unless they’d checked them out beforehand.

Duplicating print and electronic resources in a sustainably cost-effective way is a conversation that we have been having in our library for a very long time, and restrictions on lending e-books is always a primary element of the discussion.  So I was glad to find the CRS report that I am discussing today, which frames this conversation against the backdrop of the current situation.

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Getting a License to Use an Out-of-Print Work Published in Germany

Today’s Read:
Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (German National Library), Lizenzierungservice Vergriffene Werke (VW-LIS) (Licensing Service for Out-of-Print Works), https://www.dnb.de/DE/Professionell/Services/VW-LiS/vwlis_node.html (https://perma.cc/K3CE-Y38F)

The German National Library (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, or DNB) recently announced a service to offer licenses to use (Nutzungslizenzen) works that are out-of print (vergriffen).

This is a very intriguing and timely announcement.  With libraries and archives currently closed to the public because of COVID-19, there has been a marked uptick in the requests that we are seeing from researchers for digitized materials.  Establishing a reasonable licensing procedure that would allow us to offer digitized versions of out-of-print works could really help ease some of the pain that researchers are experiencing right now.  I do not know if there is a similar service offered here in the United States — if not, it would be an interesting conversation to have about whether the Library of Congress should consider offering one.

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Equitable Information Access and Librarianship Praxis: Let’s Get Critical

Today’s Read:
Lauren Smith & Michael Hanson
Communities of Praxis: Transforming Access to Information for Equity
The Serials Librarian, v. 76, nos. 1-4, pp. 42-49
DOI: 10.1080/0361526X.2019.1593015

I recently submitted a proposal to write a chapter on Critical Legal Studies for a new library science textbook, and it was accepted.

In the proposal, I used the Critical Legal Studies research guide I created for our library to create a framework for the future book chapter. Basically, I want to get the content of this guide into some kind of written form, since library research guides have a bit of an ephemeral quality.

While the chapter will be primarily about critical studies in law, it will also include some basic information about critical librarianship. I want to encourage future law librarians consider issues of disproportionate representation and information access in their own professional practice. Or, put another way, I hope that they will choose to incorporate praxis into their practice of librarianship.

For this reason, this recent article from The Serials Librarian caught my eye, and I decided to blog about it. The article is based on a presentation given by Lauren Smith at the 2018 NASIG (formerly the North American Serials Interest Group) conference. In her talk, Smith discussed three themes that are necessary to “democratize” information, which means making sure that all people are empowered to exercise their right to access it: power, praxis, and privilege.

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