French Nab 16-Year-Old Harry Potter Fan For Posting Translation Online

In the U.S., teens blithely record movie clips; in France, they produce “near professional” translations. A 16-year-old French kid translated the final Harry Potter book and posted it online within days of its late July release, and now could face a heavy fine as well as charges for violating intellectual property rights. Police are also questioning other minors who may have helped.

Although the media frenzy over the last Harry Potter book has died down in the states, the French translation won’t be released until the end of October, because the official French translator wasn’t allowed to see the manuscript until the July 21st release date. Not content to wait that long, the unnamed teen and friends took care of the task themselves and posted it online.

In the Washington Post, a lawyer speaking on behalf of Rowling’s agents said that they were “heartened” that French officials were taking steps to “avoid innocent fans being duped” (registration required). Aww, lawyer, why’d you have to go and say a jackassy thing like that? We were sort of on your side for once.

French Schoolboy held over Harry Potter translation [Telegraph]

(Photo: Getty)

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  1. superlayne says:

    Aw, poor France.

    They’ll have to wait to legally find out ____, ____, _____, and ______ Weasly all die.

  2. Buran says:

    It disgusts me how in today’s world we arrest people who are doing no harm to anyone or who try to provide a service more quickly than profit-minded megacorps do.

    Why can’t we harness all that enthusiast energy instead of persecuting people who care and want to do a good thing for others?

  3. Aut0mat1c says:

    If they really wanted to avoid situations like this then they should hurry the hell up and release the translated versions faster.

    If this kid can translate a book of this size in a matter of days couldnt they pay somebody to do it even faster?

  4. jmschn says:

    The French strike again! check out the stockmarket =(

  5. pine22 says:

    thats silly, its the publishers fault for not doing a worldwide release, instead of just an english only one. i would think they would make even more money if they had it available in as many languages as possible…

  6. ThyGuy says:

    Why wasn’t it released in France at the same time as the rest of the world. Um, wtf?

  7. chinadoll724 says:

    @Automat1c@Aut0mat1c:

    Exactly! You’d think this would embarrass them in releasing the translation faster. I mean, translator’s excuse is that he “since he received the official English version only when it was officially released,” he is still working on it. Unless there’s more info to come out, that’s when the kid and his friends started as well . . . I know the agents are “heartened” about this arrest, but I wonder what JK herself has to say.

  8. Optimistic Prime says:

    I think the boy should be given a gold star. Translating from a foreign language is a daunting task, and he tried to at least do it faithfully to the original source. I’m guessing a) he didn’t make any money from it and b) it is a fairly good translation. At the very least, give him an A in his English class.

  9. chinadoll724 says:

    @ThyGuy:
    It was released there at the same time, just not in French. Would you want to do your leisurely reading in a foreign language though?

  10. The Walking Eye says:

    They recorded the audio books months prior to release and the chapter art for the American versions. It makes no sense that they can’t have a translator for the major languages spoken around the world to have simultaneous releases.

  11. misterfancypants says:

    @Optimistic Prime:
    I’m with you.

    Seriously, that kid (and any collaborators) should be given a translation medal. What he did is no small task. Hard to believe Rowling’s people would be so eager to squelch the excitement and creativity of a young person like that. I hope there’s some hearty backlash.

    On another note, translation, in general, is (unfortunately) usually valued so little, it’s odd to see such a controversy over it.

  12. timmus says:

    Where is the line drawn for treating copyright matters as criminal instead of civil? It’s kind of strange that me (as a writer) wouldn’t be able to get any kind of remediation for someone copying my stuff except in civil courts. But Harry Potter? Scotland Yard and the FBI to the rescue!

  13. ellmar says:

    If Rowling had any sense at all she would squelch the legal ass-hattery and invite those teenagers over to her castle for tea and scones (or Red Bull and clove cigarettes or whatever the hell French teenagers like these days). How hard would it be for her to be gracious and create a bit of goodwill?

  14. timmus says:

    How hard would it be for her to be gracious and create a bit of goodwill?
    Well, to be fair, it would probably attract a lot of copycat infringements.

  15. Trai_Dep says:

    Le mort to the kid for posting it on the web. But trés bien for the translation job.

    Keep in mind it’s the piracy that is causing this, not the translation.

  16. Chicago7 says:

    Yeah, how did they release the audio version on the same day?

    This is just the Brits screwing with the French again.

    /Boy, the audio versions of these books are great. Jim Dale kicks butt!

  17. huadpe says:

    @trai_dep: Le mort? That’s a little severe.

  18. SOhp101 says:

    I’m split regarding this issue. While it is amazing for this kid to translate the entire book so quickly (although it’s understandable for the ‘official’ version to take much longer because of quality control, double checking the translation, etc.) it is nothing like what the girl did in the movie theater. The clip was mere seconds (an unsubstantial portion of the actual movie) while the translation is the entire book. If someone posted the entire Deathly Hallows in English, there wouldn’t be much question to his lack of innocence.

  19. Lin-Z [linguist on duty] says:

    @Aut0mat1c: A skillful literary translation, especially for something as long as harry potter, takes a long time. Not to mention the proofreading and various editing that these kids probably didn’t do.

    although major kudos for trying. I’m pretty impressed all the same.

  20. NickRB says:

    I think it should be removed from the internet immediately. I think that the publisher should fire their current translator and hire this kid instead. I think this kid should know better than to do it in the first place though.

  21. Her Grace says:

    Dude. Being able to do even a half-assed job in a couple of days FAR outshines the official guy taking months and months. The only reason it should take months is if he finishes it in a week and then the rest is beaurocracy to get it printed, bound, and distributed.

    The audio books (both editions) were released same-day, so they were recorded at least a month or two in advance. The art inside the books is chapter art, not just random, so the artist at the very least know the general plot. Why in the world were Scholastic and Bloomsbery so godawful stupid that they couldn’t give a copy to the official translators in the major languages (say, German, French, Spanish, Mandarin, and Japanese). I mean, it’s one thing to wait a year to get it in Latin (also, wtf?), but surely there would have been a lot more cash to be made if the translations were available for simultaneous release.

    What the kid did was technically wrong, but I think the motivation and ability should play a part in his sentencing. A slap on the wrist (community service, an essay on why what he did was wrong, something else little like that) is all that they ought to give him. Unfortunately, I have a feeling this will turn into a bloodbath of sorts.

  22. LSK says:

    I definitely agree – this kid should be let off with a warning and given a professional job.

  23. rdldr1 says:

    In China, it is ALOT worse. There are over 10 different versions of the Deathly Hallows out there – most of them Chinese inventions. Its sad that they are published as if they were the real thing.

  24. jamar0303 says:

    @rdldr1: Where? I live in Shanghai and had to get it in English (although I did so on a trip to the States, and had fun at the release event) and I have friends that want to wait for the Chinese version. And what’s sad about that? People don’t care who translates it, they just want it sooner than the end-of-October release that’s currently planned. I haven’t seen any, and if I did, I’d be buying it, official or not.

  25. palaste says:

    @chinadoll724: I do it all the time.

  26. Xkeeper says:

    @Buran:

    Because those people aren’t bringing in $$$$, so rather than try to make them bring in $$$$, they simply out them. It’s easier.

  27. acambras says:

    Does this mean there will be a significant delay in the release of the Klingon translation?

  28. @SOhp101: Exactly. I’m not saying they should go to jail but why the heck are they putting an entire book online? What were they thinking?

    @The Walking Eye: I dunno, I guess they trusted Jim Dale not to spill any details and didn’t trust the translators not too? Maybe they have new people this time and not the translators they’ve used in the past.

    I also don’t get why there’s only one person working on the official French translation. Couldn’t they have divided the work between several people like the kid in question might have done?

  29. Steel_Pelican says:

    Cory Doctorow hit the nail on the head over at [www.boingboing.net.] Scholastic (HP publishers) deprived French-reading fans of an official translation- ostensibly to prevent spoilers. Now, a bilingual French fan translates the book ostensibly to prevent spoilers.

  30. Steel_Pelican says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: Good point about the single-translator problem. Most sensitive documents needing translation (espionage, corporate documents, etc.) are done by a team, so that no single translator holds the whole document.

    I suppose that in the case of literature, it helps to have a single translator to ensure a consistent voice… But this is (probably) the biggest literary franchise in the world- I think they could work out a way around that problem.

  31. Javert says:

    He had no right to post it. Who cares if he translated it but it was not within his rights to release it to public. Why can no one understand the creator of a work should have control of it? Why does this bother everyone so much?

    His actions, because of the posting, amount to little more than stealing. He stole the copyright holders exclusive right to determine where and when works are to disseminated.

    By this reasoning, if a movie is released in country x at one time but not in country y for two weeks it would be perfectly ok for me in country x to post a copy on the internet for those poor souls who have to wait in country y???

    Do none of you understand intellectual property? Seriously, read up on it. Learn something.

  32. Steel_Pelican says:

    @Javert: “By this reasoning, if a movie is released in country x at one time but not in country y for two weeks it would be perfectly ok for me in country x to post a copy on the internet for those poor souls who have to wait in country y???”

    Actually, there’s a very, very large community of anime/foreign film enthusiasts who do exactly this with films. It’s called fansubbing- when fans translate a film and add their own subtitles for films that are unreleased in their home country.

  33. ingridc says:

    I am usually not an advocate for scanning books and posting them online; however, I am totally with the French kid on this one. I was so eager to read Deathly Hallows without the interruption of spoilers, fake or real, that I basically went on lockdown for the week prior to sale date, bought the book at midnight Friday night, and went back into lockdown for the weekend until I finished it. I’m not even kidding.

    Yes, I am a giant nerd, but I really hate spoilers of any sort and totally understand where the French kid is coming from. As previously mentioned, Cory at Boing Boing got it right. If I had to wait months to read book 7 when millions of people around the world had the privilege, all the while trying to avoid spoilers, I’d be anxious as a mothertrucker. The first comment illustrates my point nicely: fake spoiler, yet still completely annoying, because no one would have thought to come across something that ridiculous at Consumerist.

  34. ingridc says:

    p.s. It may seem like I’m taking this all too seriously, but my fellow Harry Potter nerd-homies understand. :D

  35. Buran says:

    @Xkeeper: How do you know? I’m sure a lot of people would accept a job doing whatever they were doing. I see it happen fairly often in enthusiast circles.

  36. @ingridc: It colors how you read the book because instead of just reading it you read it waiting to see if that spoiler you ended up reading or hearing is true or not.

    That said, doesn’t what he did actually help the people who go out to bookstores yelling spoilers or putting them on large signs by having the book in French available before it’s released? His plan to get it out there ahead of spoilers only works if we believe he’s done an accurate translation without any changes. As rdldr1 pointed out there are a lot of fake translations out there that either inaccurate or just something the translator made up. This doesn’t just happen in China. People sell HP eBooks on eBay even though there’s no such thing.

    How do French HP fans know his intentions are really good or not?

  37. TWinter says:

    The delay in publishing translations is an intentional tactic on the part of the publishers, because it results in double book sales in many countries. The hard core fans will buy the book in English first and then buy it again when the translation comes out in their native language.

    I know that the English language editions of the last few Harry Potter books have made it to the top of the best seller list in Germany. There was quite a bit of upset the first time this happened (I think it was book four or five) because a book printed in a foreign language had never made it onto the best seller list before, much less gotten to the top spot.

    And people do read novels in foreign languages for fun, it’s a very good way to keep up your skills if you have them, and light, action oriented fare like Harry Potter is perfect.

  38. Gloria says:

    Scholastic delaying foreign translations is just such an insult to fans who don’t speak English. If I were someone who had to buy Harry Potter in a language other than English, I’d feel incredibly bitter at how I’m being treated. My money and loyalty would be as good as any English-speaker’s. It’s not as though Scholastic is even making an allowance for obscure languages — we’re talking Mandarin, Cantonese, French, Spanish, German, etc., with millions of speakers! Ridiculous.

  39. alimc83 says:

    Gloria,
    Just for the record Scholastic is only in charge of the American publication of HP, as far as I know. Gallimard is the French publisher responsible for HP.

    4 months is a long time to dodge HP spoilers. I spent a week scared to read the news for fear it would all be reveal crucial plot details before I finished Deathly Hallows. Copyright violation or not, as an HP fan I can’t be outraged about this. Surely, early leakage should be expected. It even happened with the English edition. Instead of investing money in prosecuting leakers, Gallimard should increase translation manpower and make this French translation happen sooner.

  40. ingridc says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: Very good point. It’s weakness of mine–my tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt no matter what. My supposition would be that the kid has the very best of intentions and did a reasonable translation, like what I imagine I would do were I in his shoes. Unfortunately my hoping for the best in everybody tends to get me in trouble every now and then <:/. Oh well. I’m an optimist!

  41. Javert says:

    @Steel_Pelican: Yes it is done for anime and foreign films. It still does not make it right. Do what I did an study Japanese.

  42. @Javert: Working on that…