Jul 30

Peter Brantley

Peter Brantley

Translating Potter

Poynter Online has a story of the first translation of HP7 to hit the Internet --

"The final Harry Potter book was translated in just two days. On the Chinese site yWeekend (see translation by ESWN), high school freshman Xiao Wang explained how he tested and organized the volunteer translators online, via the popular Chinese chat and blogging service QQ."

"About 200 volunteers have contacted me [via QQ]. We had to give tests to these people. The test material came from English-language paragraphs about Harry Potter taken from overseas websites. Those paragraphs do not appear in the Harry Potter novels themselves. Afterwards, we checked the quality of the translation. We recruited two waves of people, in which about 60 people passed the test. We set up a work schedule of based upon division of labor. Basically, there are four or five people per group. The translation in each chapter has to go through translation, editing, proof-reading and final review. This is to ensure the quality of the translation."

In a way, what's most interesting is the organizer's perspective on the impact such a translation would have on actual sales. To wit - very little negative impact on official hardcopy sales was expected. Left undetermined is whether there might not be some gain to sales through increased exposure.

Wang Xiao says:

Actually, I feel that we have very little impact on the official translation of the book. Genuine Harry Potter friends will always want to buy the official version, because the quality is better and they want to collect it. I had done a poll at the [Harry Potter 7 Bar] about how Harry Potter fans want to read [Harry Potter 7]. More than 100 persons participated, of which almost 70 want to buy the official Chinese-language translation. Only 2 persons said that they will only read the Internet translation.

The original news report (in English translation) also inquires whether there is a potential rights violation:

Lawyer Zheng Yan of the Beijing Haotian Xinhe Legal Office told this reporter: "Suppose that [Harry Potter 7] was released prematurely by overseas booksellers and that overseas netizens obtained the scan images of the original book through legal means. If the translation is done by netizens who include their own creativity and knowledge and they are not doing this for profit, there is no rights violation."

The basis for distinction on intention to profit is quite interesting.

tags: publishing  | comments: 8   | Sphere It

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Comments: 8

  Scott A [07.30.07 06:12 PM]

This is an interesting and impressive project, but the copyright issues leave a bad taste in my mouth.

The distinction shouldn't be whether people posting someone else's intellectual property online are doing it for profit, it should be whether they are undermining the right to profit (and to control the quality of) from the rightful owner's work.

I would think that someone took this translation and started printing out and selling copies pretty quickly. Of course, pirated versions of the official translation will probably sell better than ones that come from this project.

It seems to me that the book's author and publishers, or a neutral court, should be the ones deciding whether or not this undertaking could undermine the sales of the official edition.

If people respected basic copyright protections, we probably wouldn't have the publishing and media industries using their lobbying force to subject us to anti-innovation, anti-consumer, and anti-tech laws like the DMCA.

  R-Dog [07.30.07 06:28 PM]

It's great to know that the chinese speaking peoples will now be able to read the Harry Potter book.

  Benjamin Williams [07.31.07 07:33 AM]

In other underground translating news, David Pryor, age 29, died on July 27 from gunshot wounds he received from police. He was a member of Dattebayo, a fansubbing group that translates Naruto and Bleach.

  Peter Wayner [08.01.07 06:28 AM]

Fascinating attitude for a publisher of books. The implication is that I can translate O'Reilly books, republish them, and be welcomed by O'Reilly as long as the quality is just a bit worse. And is it enough to translate them from American English to British English?

  Tim O'Reilly [08.02.07 12:42 PM]

Peter Wayner --

Peter Brantley is reporting on a phenomenon, not necessarily endorsing it. And he doesn't speak for O'Reilly on policy issues like this.

Would I be interested in trying out crowdsourcing of translation? You bet. Would I want it to be done by a third party making the information available for free? It depends.

In some markets, we don't sell books anyway. I'd be happy to have the information made available. If the market eventually grows enough to support economical book sales in that language, we'd love to have the right to sell those books.

I think you have to separate the mechanism from the policy. Crowdsourcing doesn't mean anything about ownership. The FSF asks for copyright assignment to the FSF for free software. Google is crowdsourcing geo data in India (see radar post today) but owns the data, vs openstreetmap which keeps it free.

It would be great to have better wiki-like mechanisms for collaborative translation. Publishers like O'Reilly could then provide books in many more languages.

  Peter Wayner [08.02.07 02:01 PM]

Sure, yes, I understand the distinction. It's just the post seemed to focus a great deal on the positive aspects and it didn't seem to be bothered at all by the potential for lost revenues. I agree that it will be fascinating if someone can find an ideal way to support crowdsourcing of translation. Maybe someone will discover it. I'm sure O'Reilly is more likely to be the first than almost any other publisher.

  Peter Brantley [08.02.07 02:18 PM]

Peter Wayner --

I don't think my post is favorable one way or another; it is not meant to be. In this case, I was merely reporting on an event in the publishing world. I provided, rather purposely, neither negative nor positive commentary. As reported in the (Chinese) press, the quoted excerpts tend toward positive; the story of this particular translation does not, or did not at least, have much external critique.

  Richard [08.03.07 04:03 PM]

In response to all who think this is just a lark perpetrated by some well-meaning folks in a far-away land: It always amazes me how cavalierly a non-stakeholder can treat the intellectual property of another person. These people who did the translating are bright enough to know they had no right to translate another person's work. If you doubt that, wait a few years until China's copyright laws mature. You'll see then that they will begin protecting their property as fiercely as anyone else.

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