Harry Potter and the Order of the Czech Legal Authorities

Geoff Goodfellow blogged it first, and now it’s been Slashdotted, but it seems quite a few people are talking about the bootleg Harry Potter translation that’s turned up on the Interfernet in the past couple of days.

What I can’t understand is this: why, in an internetworked world, would Albatros and its translators take until February to deliver the Czech translation of one of the most eagerly-awaited books in recent memory, and not think that people would want to read it before then?

Now with Albatros (on behalf of AOL Time Warner) seeking to prosecute the schoolboys involved in the translation, a petition has been set up to support them. It reads (in my own unauthorized translation):

The below signed support this petition:

The Albatros publishing house has issued a criminal complaint against amateur translators due to their illegal translation of the book Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. We call on Albatros to revoke this, and to provide their official endorsement of the amateur translation with the terms that the translation will be made public free of charge, and that its readers will be registered thoroughly.

Albatros posted this on their website in response to the controversy:

Before you run amok and start cursing Albatros please read this!

First of all: It would have been enough if the translators informed us of their intent, and we would have come to an agreement similar to that reached between Harry Potter’s German publishers and its “unofficial translators.” They were smarter and more fair, and went directly to the publisher first.

In our opinion, Harry Potter can, in our opinion, exist in unofficial translations on the web, but of course Albatros is bound by a contract with Mrs. Rowling and cannot support such activities – even if it wanted to. We must act according to the law and report the theft of copyright that occurred.

These (web) pages (with the translation) were not redirected by Albatros, but out of incomprehensible revenge on the authors of the illegal translation. We are sorry that they did not have the courage to contact us, and we continue to refuse to pursue the case.

If readers would rather look forward to the illegal translation instead of the book, we will respect their decision.

Further complaints can be addressed directly to Mrs. Rowling. This entire misunderstanding occurred thanks to her.


As the Czechs’ premier publishing house for youth (think of Scholastic in the US) Albatros definitely is between a rock and a hard place on this matter. They certainly can’t afford to risk their sizable investment into the rights to Harry Potter, but they also risk alienating their young readers if they pursue the matter with an AOL Time Warner-induced iron fist.

The whole case does open some interesting copyright questions. I’m not sure who owns the copyright to a translation under Czech law, or whether a translator can be prosecuted for publishing without the consent of the original author. Maybe someone can brief me on that? Is Alex Zucker in the house?

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