BROOKE GLADSTONE: There is, practically speaking, no limit to copying in China where reproducing movies, manufacturing Rolexes or even fabricating would-be works of art is the norm. Case in point -- children in our hemisphere despair that J.K. Rowling is a year behind schedule completing Harry Potter's latest adventure. But kids in China no longer have to wait because Harry Potter and Leopard Walk Up to Dragon is available at kiosks and newsstands all over Beijing. Here's a brief quote from the gripping first chapter. "Harry is wondering in his bath how long it will take to wash away the creamy cake from his face. To a grown-up, handsome young man it is disgusting to have filthy dirt on his body. Lying in a luxurious bathtub and rubbing his face with his hands, he thinks about Dudley's face which is as fat as Aunt Petunia's bottom." Later, Harry gets drenched in a hot and sour soup rain and is turned into a dwarf, and his troubles really begin. Needless to say, this latest Potter book is a fake. Joining me now from his cellphone in Beijing is The Times of London China correspondent Oliver August. Thanks for coming on.
OLIVER AUGUST: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: First of all how popular is the Harry Potter series in China?
OLIVER AUGUST: It's extremely popular. Actually, in Chinese they call it [HARRY POTTER IN CHINESE ACCENT] which is a sort of transliteration, and the launch of the first few titles 2 years ago got enormous coverage in the local press. The original release of the book in China had to be brought forward because the publishers discovered that pirates were already selling copies of the book they hadn't even published -- they had somehow gotten hold of it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what happened when the fake 5th installment -- Harry Potter and Leopard Walk Up to Dragon -- hit the streets?
OLIVER AUGUST:Oh, people snapped it up. People, I assume, wouldn't really necessarily be able to tell the difference. The book has a picture of J.K. Rowling, the English author, on the back; it claims to have been published by the same publishing house as the previous ones, and to a parent keen to make his child happy, it would have seemed a very good present. And indeed it may still be a very good present!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Where can you buy it? I know that the police are saying they don't want it in bookstores; they don't want it anywhere.
OLIVER AUGUST:You cannot buy it in bookstores, but then a lot of books in China are not sold necessarily in book shops. You can buy it on street corners, at little newspaper stands. Maybe somebody might put out a blanket on the sidewalk and just sell a few books and newspapers there. There are plenty of places to buy them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you think the police are seriously trying to ferret out the piraters?
OLIVER AUGUST:I, I think they are seriously trying to stop counterfeiting in general in China which is an enormous problem where everything from Hollywood movies to airplane parts are, are being counterfeited -- sometimes with more serious consequences than with Harry Potter as you can imagine, but-- whether there are actually policemen going around the streets of Beijing trying to look for Harry Potter, well, it would be lovely to know but I guess we never really will.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Have you read the book? We've only read the first couple of lines in translation from news reports. Is it any good?
OLIVER AUGUST:Not being a Harry Potter aficionado myself, it seemed put together in very short time. I think the writer probably didn't give himself quite as much time and inspiration as J.K. Rowling would have taken or is indeed taking whose book has been overdue for more than a year.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But this certainly has a certain Chinese flavor to it which the originals don't -- for instance Harry is rained on with hot and sour soup before he turns into a dwarf.
OLIVER AUGUST: That's true, [LAUGHS] yes. It has some lovely Chinese touches. I actually think that the publisher of the original probably wouldn't be too unhappy about this. A) it shows that the book really is very successful as people are starting to copy it; and secondly is, you know, if it keeps the Harry Potter buzz going, then it will probably help them in the end when they bring out the real 5th one.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well usually copyright owners are concerned that cheap imitations will cheapen their brand.
OLIVER AUGUST:I think that that's probably more of a concern in the West than it is in China where people are fairly sophisticated when it comes to copying. [LAUGHS] These are people who will probably watch at least one pirated Hollywood movie every week, who play pirated video games and in any case, with this particular product, the hunger amongst the-- children is so great that I'm sure they'll, they'll only bother their parents even more now to buy a copy of the real thing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well, as in the case of all bogus name brand products, is the fake Harry Potter selling cheaper than the original Harry Potter's work?
OLIVER AUGUST: Yes, they are. The original Harry Potter in the shops is about 2 dollars 50 whereas the fake one sells for about a dollar, although on the back of the book they have very faithfully reprinted the original retail price of the, of the other book, but they do sell it for-- less than half of that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: According to an article we read, the fake book is dedicated to someone in Edinburgh, Scotland where Rowling is from!
OLIVER AUGUST:Yes, they took great pains to make it seem like the real thing. I'm not sure if that was done out of sportsmanship or commercial interest, so-- I think they might actually have a sense of humor about it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Oliver August, thank you very much.
OLIVER AUGUST: Well, no, thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Oliver August is a correspondent for the Times of London in Beijing, and he spoke to us on his cellphone.
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, trouble brewing in the White House press room and wild pitches in Hollywood.