'Harry Potter' Pirated Into Chinese

The wizards of China's thriving piracy industry have worked their magic again and produced a rush translation of the latest Harry Potter book.

Though it's missing some paragraphs and gets a couple of facts wrong, an unauthorized Chinese version of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (search)" was on sale Sunday in Beijing, just two weeks after the book appeared in English and almost three months ahead of the planned October launch of the official Chinese-language edition.

Impatient Chinese fans also have begun posting their own translations online. One reader was so upset about the ending he wrote his own and posted it on a university Web site.

The fantasy series by J.K. Rowling (search) is wildly popular in China, where the hero is known as "Ha-li Bo-te" and authorized translations of five earlier books have sold millions of copies. In 2002, an unknown Chinese author produced an entire fake adventure, "Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-Up-To-Dragon."

Chinese leaders, under pressure from the United States and the country's other trading partners, have promised repeatedly to stamp out the country's rampant piracy of goods ranging from books and movies to drugs and designer clothes.

But such fakes are still widely available, and foreign companies say they are losing billions of dollars in potential sales.

A Chinese-character softcover version of the newest Harry Potter installment was being sold off a tarp in an underpass in downtown Beijing for 20 yuan, or $2.50, while the official English-language hardcover books sell in Beijing for the equivalent of $21.

The saleswoman would not say where she got the book but said she had been selling copies since Friday.

The fake book looked identical to the first five tales put out by People's Literature Publishing House, the mainland firm that purchased the rights to publish Harry Potter in Chinese.

However, several crucial pages of action are missing and there are some critical mistranslations, such as using the word "immortal" at one point when the original says "mortal."

The earlier authorized translations were produced by a team of veteran children's book translators. Pirated versions of those books and the movie spin-offs are widely available in China.

The People's Literature Publishing House plans to launch the official Chinese version of the new book Oct. 15, the Beijing Daily Messenger newspaper reported Sunday.

In 2003, the publisher tried to beat pirates to market by rushing out its own translation of Rowling's previous book, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," 10 days before its scheduled release.

At that time, the company offered a reward for reporting piracy, but it was not clear whether it caught any copycats.

A spokesman for Rowling's London agent, Christopher Little, said two weeks ago the agent had successfully taken action against Chinese pirates but declined to give details.

China is regarded as the world's biggest source of illegally copied goods ranging from Hollywood movies and Microsoft Corp. software to Ralph Lauren designer shirts and Callaway golf clubs.

Estimates of potential lost sales to legitimate producers worldwide range from $16 billion to as much as $50 billion a year. China's own producers of music, software and other goods say they also suffer huge losses.

In response to complaints from it trading partners that fines were too light to deter pirates, China has begun imposing jail time for violations. The government said in June that during an eight-month crackdown it had arrested some 2,600 people and destroyed 63 million compact discs and other counterfeit goods estimated to be worth $105 million.

Earlier this month, Chinese officials promised to further step up anti-piracy efforts during a visit by U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez (search). They said they would file more criminal charges in copyright cases, crack down on Chinese exports of pirated products and focus special attention on movie piracy.

Nevertheless, counterfeit goods are still widely available in Chinese shops. It is estimated that 70 percent of pirated products coming into the United States originate in China.

Since the English-language release of the latest Harry Potter book, Chinese fans have begun sharing their own translations for free on Web sites, including those run by Beijing's elite Tsinghua and Peking universities.

On the Tsinghua site, a fan writing under the name Woodchuckle was so upset by Rowling's ending that he wrote and posted his own.

A notice posted on the Tsinghua site from its administrator told users that several postings were deleted because they contained illegal electronic versions of the book.

The notice said the university had received a warning from a law firm but did not give any other details.

Fans also use the chat rooms to talk about their reactions to the new plot twists, opinions on the characters or what they felt they learned from the story.

"As soon as I saw the book in the bookstore, I bought it and rushed home to read it," wrote one fan writing on the Tsinghua site. "I didn't finish it until the middle of the night and then I cried like crazy."