With something as massively successful as Harry Potter, it’s not entirely surprising that it would garner unauthorised and pirate translations, some of which are better quality than others, some just awful. Let’s take a look here…
One place in which pirated Harry Potter books have been released is China (as is the case with, let’s be honest, many other pirates). Barely three days after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hit the international market on July 21st 2007, unauthorised Chinese translations appeared online. People’s Literature Publishing House, the company authorized to translate the book into Chinese, said the spread of these unauthorized translations would adversely affect the sales of the official translation as the book wasn’t due until October that year. At least three groups of volunteers were found to have translated the book and posted the translations online for free. The most influential group calls itself the International Witches and Wizards Association and was apparently led by a 15-year-old boy only known by his nickname ‘Wizard Harry’.
Wizard Harry was one of the many Harry Potter fanatics in China. In an interview with the China Youth Daily, the high school student said he was familiar with every Harry Potter detail and claimed that he’d organised the translation drive to help fans who didn’t understand English read the book as soon as possible. Shortly before the official book hit the market, he’d asked members the International Witches and Wizards Association to translate the book.
A team of about eight numbers was soon formed, some of who were students of foreign language schools, and the translation was completed far quicker than expected. The translators did not translate for profit however, saying this would be ‘blasphemy’ for a loyal Potter fan.
Kong Qingde, a lawyer with Shanghai Shenda law firm, said the unauthorized translations breached the rights of the copyright owner, equalling piracy. Wizard Harry said he did not know the translation had violated the law though he agreed to remove the translations from his website after being warned by the publishing company.
Another team called Harry Potter Online Translation Team posted its own translation on the popular search engine Baidu’s website while another team called Harry Potter Fans Club posted their translation on the douban website.
At the time of the issue, Sun Shunlin, director of the planning department of the People’s Literature Publishing House, said suing the online translators would not be fruitful, as the contract signed between the publishing house and the writer did not include restrictions on online translation. He also recalled how volunteers had put out unauthorized translations of the previous installment of Harry Potter two years ago. Most of the translations, according to him, were “full of mistakes, omitted large parts of the original, and affected the readers’ understanding of the original.”
Also a worthy point of note, the official Chinese translations by the People’s Literature Publishing House has a tendency for footnotes explaining certain Western things like Mars Bars, locations and Captain Obvious moments like pointing out Binns muddling up student names when it clearly shows that in his dialogue. And adverts for other books (like Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them) published by the People’s Literature Publishing House. In the text. Brilliant.
As many as 16 different translations of Harry Potter may exist in Iran, almost all of them poor quality. This is partially because the Persian language used today is different from the language used 30 years so there are elements that differ depending on the age of the translator. In 2008, official Harry Potter translator Vida Eslamieh called the existence of so many translations a ‘catastrophe’ and added that while knowledgeable readers can recognise good translations, publishers competed for the fast release of the final book leading to poor quality translations. At the time of the final book’s release, Iran had not joined the Universal Copyright Convention so publishers are not prosecuted for publishing foreign books without respecting copyright or paying royalties. Nowadays though, most countries are members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and thus conform to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) which has largely superseded the UCC so Iran’s status in this regard has likely changed.
Again involving Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, a 16-year old French boy was apparently so impatient in waiting for the final book to be officially published in French that he set about translating the English version. The first few chapters were available for download a few days after the book’s release in July 2007 and the complete text was online within a few days. The unnamed boy was arrested and the site taken down. He was kept overnight before being released the next day while ‘preliminary inquiries’ were made and if more were found to be involved, they could have faced heavy fines. Like others, there was no intention to make profit from the translation.
The police appeared surprised by the translation’s quality, calling it semi-professional. Official translator Jean-Francois Ménard’s wife Diane said that she had seen pirate versions online before with the previous books though they have never threatened the real thing. “I remember seeing one on the internet but the first line was the opposite of what it should have been, so it wasn’t a very good start,” she said.
In 2000, a group of German fans faced legal action from Calsen Verlag, the German publisher of Harry Potter, over pirated translations of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The book’s official release was due in October that year, four months after the English release, though it appeared many could not wait that long. Neither was this the first instance as pirated copies of the previous books had appeared on the internet before.
The community, known as ‘Potterianerin’, were based on the harry-auf-deutsch.de website and had already posted the first six chapters of the book. They came to the attention of the publisher when looking for volunteers to translate the remaining chapters. The group tried justifying their actions saying Carlsen had raised the price to cash in on fan demands though J. K. Rowling agent Christopher Little said the price reflected the costs of translating and printing the novel which ran over 850 pages.
Faced with legal action, the chapters were removed from the website and the project halted. Had they continued, the site’s webmaster, Bernd Koeleman, would have faced heavy fines or a jail sentence.
Venezuela and Chile
One especially bad Spanish-language translation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix appeared in Venezuela in 2003, five months before the official release complete with apologies for errors and areas that he or she could not properly translate. Two people were arrested with producing the bootlegs. Two men in Chile were also arrested around a similar time for producing their own badly-translated bootlegs with the president of the Chilean Book Chamber business group urging people not to buy the book, which was selling for about $15 (£9.30), as not only was it pirated, but just plain bad.