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Newest Potter E-Book May Transform Publication Norms
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Although the last chapter of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter book series Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was officially on sale globally on July 21, it's the English version. Some enthusiastic Chinese fans have bought it, but most Chinese are still waiting for the Chinese language version, expected in late October.

However, many fans just can't wait another three months. Despite the fact that translation rights and publishing rights for the Chinese Harry Potter book series were exclusively obtained by the People's Literature Publishing House, a translated version of the book has appeared on the Internet in less than a week. Many industry insiders are now wondering if this will alter Chinese publication standards in China, and finally also address the piracy issue.

After the English language version of the book was released, many Chinese Harry Potter fans voluntarily formed Internet translation groups. To date, 29 of the 36 major chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows have been professionally translated. Various Chinese online forums and blogs posted and spread the text around the Internet. Indeed, a few groups even claimed that they have already completely translated the book.

In order to ensure a professional quality translation, translation group members were carefully selected by veteran Harry Potter fans, all of whom supervised Harry Potter fan clubs or Bulletin Board System forums, China.org.cn learned. All of them had to take exams to qualify. Some are high school or university students, the rest are white-collar employees in foreign enterprises or even Chinese youngsters living or studying abroad. Most of them have never met each other in person.

Such Chinese Internet translation campaigns sprouted into existence when the last Harry Potter books were introduced. A few webmasters controlling the Harry Potter fan sites explained to CCIDnet, China's famous IT portal, that they are trying to meet the demands of tens of thousands of Chinese fans who just can't wait until October. They said that the translation is just a preliminary text and for sharing purposes only, it is not for commercial use.

The miscellany of young translators also said that they are doing the translation simply because they love the book. None of them want even a dime in payment, because it would be, according to them "an insult to our beloved Harry Potter". In fact, one of the young translators was quoted as stating, "If anyone asks for money for this, he is not really a Potter fan," reported an initiator of a translation group.

But those translation works may infringe upon the copyright laws in China and the rest of the world. So some translation groups have been disbanded, while others have ceased updating and uploading information. Yet the work continues.

Yang Hong, deputy director of the Guangzhou Copyright Association, said that even though the Internet translation was for sharing purposes only, it has already challenged the exclusive translation and publishing rights of the Chinese publishing houses. He said that good intentions couldn't guarantee that illegal book brokers would not make use of those translations to print illegal pirated books. This would hurt the interests of both the author and the publishers. 

Among Chinese Harry Potter fan clubs, 52Harrypotter.com is one of a few sites which call for fans to stand against the Internet translation.

Putting aside the piracy controversy, insiders said this phenomenon might become a vanguard for new standards in the Chinese publication industry. Yang Hong said that a publisher could publish two translated versions of a foreign book like Harry Potter. The Internet version is a fast version, like fast food for fans who want to read the book as soon as possible. Later, the higher quality, professional translation could be a classic. Both will sell well, he added.

But Harry Potter fans said they never thought about financial gains. They said that if the publisher wished, they would give their translated version to the publisher for free and for reference. They noted that complaints concerning translation mistakes were widespread in the publisher's previously translated Harry Potter books. This is because Chinese translators may not be intimate with British culture and customs.

Officials from the People's Literature Publishing House said that they have reported this illegal problem to relevant authorities, such as the General Administration of Press and Publication. Wang Ruiqin, executive editor of the publishing house who brought the Harry Potter series to China, said she could understand her fans' urges and passions. But she added that it is also a challenge for the publishing house to hold anyone responsible for the illegal translation.

"We are facing a group of net citizens who have committed a serious infringement. The problem is that one person may have just translated one paragraph. If we sue, then we may have to sue tens or hundreds of fan translators for one single translated version. Furthermore, we cannot know how widespread the translation really is or how much damage it has caused," she admitted.

The official Chinese version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was scheduled to be released on October 28 of this year. The professional translators Ma Ainong and Ma Aixin are two sisters. Both worked together to translate several of the previous Potter books. They started working on the official Chinese translation the day the book was released worldwide.

(China.org.cn by Zhang Rui, July 27, 2007)

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