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Harry Potter and the Illegal Translation of Text

6/27/2007 10:29:00 AM
Posted by Jay Marciano, Director, Machine Translation Development

As fans of Hogwarts and the magical world of J. K. Rowling eagerly await the seventh and final installment of the wonderful Harry Potter books, it seems a good time to review the terms and conditions of, particularly as they concern the translation of copyrighted material.

The sanctioned translations of the Potter books are generally published a few months after the original appears in print. The wait, of course, can be excruciating for those who can’t simply tap their copy of the book with their wands and shout “Vernaculum!” or some other translation incantation. In the past, we have noticed that merely days after the publication of a Harry Potter book, the servers are heavily taxed by users who are trying to magically produce unofficial translations of the books.

The terms and conditions of this website clearly state that users must promise SDL that the text or other materials submitted by them to do not infringe upon any third party's copyright.

Please keep in mind that the text of a novel is protected by international copyright law. It is illegal to copy the text of a novel without permission of the copyright holder. It is also illegal to produce a “derivative work” without express permission from the copyright holder. A derivative work is any creative work that is based substantially on another work. Translations are derivative works.

How do we know that people are translating Potter material? We can instruct the servers to create logs of unfound words. An “unfound word” is one that is not recognized by the translation technology. If words like “Hermione” or “Dumbledore” or “Voldemort” appear with great frequency in our logs, we can make an educated guess about the content that is being translated.

So, enjoy your reading! But please respect copyright protection. After all, it is the same law that will protect your interests when you write a great novel!


6/28/2007 04:02:00 AM
Comment by Anonymous John
wow!it’s great to read articles that come directly from the heart. Thanks for sharing
8/22/2007 05:53:00 PM
Comment by Anonymous Jose C. Olivera
If you guys are trying to sell your translation services, you should at least make a decent translation of your own blogs.

When you say "As fans of Hogwarts and the magical world of J. K. Rowling...", the correct translation in Spanish should be "Como fanaticos de ..." and not "Cuando ventiladores...".

The same goes for Portuguese... the word "wands" does not exist in Portuguese, the right word is "varinha".

I don't know who does the translation, but if you can't even have your own blogs translated correctly, how are we going to trust you with important documents that need to be translated.
8/23/2007 04:29:00 PM
Comment by Blogger
Hi, Jose!

When a user selects a language from the drop-down menu that is found directly below each blog article, a translation is immediately produced by the same computers that translate all of the text that is submitted to Because this process is completely automatic and is finished in a matter of seconds, there is no time for a proofreader to check the text for errors.

You are absolutely correct that there are mistakes in the translations.

When SDL uses automated translation for customers, in a service called SDL Knowledge-based Translation System, there is always a thorough review of the output.

The problems that you indicated can be divided into three categories that are very familiar to all who work in the translation industry. (They should also be familiar to regular readers of this blog!)

(1) The natural ambiguity of language;
(2) Stylistic complexity of the source material; and
(3) Shortcomings of the translation technology.

The mistranslation of FAN, for instance, is a problem of ambiguity. The lack of translation of the word WAND into Portuguese was a shortcoming of the system. (This word is handled inconsistently by the system. I am happy to report that we have already taken steps to correct this problem in the next release of SDL Enterprise Translation Server.) Most of the problems with the translation, however, are a result of my somewhat conversational writing style, which complicates the translation process considerably.

Thank you very much for your comments! They help us to improve the technology.
8/29/2007 06:03:00 AM
Comment by Anonymous Anonymous
I have to say that I agree with Jose on this issue.
I fully understand the logic of your point regarding machine translation.

However whats to say that your translators are not just running your clients documents through a piece of machine translation software or even through the free translation software from your website.
9/10/2007 08:43:00 AM
Comment by Blogger
Hi, there Anonymous!

That's a valid question.

In fact, automatic translation is used as a step in a relatively small percentage of the company's services jobs. It is only used in cases where it will help us to produce a high-quality translation more rapidly and consistently than we could with traditional methods. There is always a stringent review process.

Perhaps it is best to ask SDL's customers if they are happy with the quality of the work provided by SDL. As one of the world's largest providers of professional translation services and technologies, SDL has customers that range from multinational corporations to individual consumers. Many of their stories can be found in the case studies section of the SDL website.

The purpose of this blog is to discuss and automatic translation technology, not to get all "markety" about the company. Nevertheless, I will say that the people of SDL, from translators to computational linguists, from project managers to software engineers, from sales and marketing folks to executives, take great pride in exceeding the expectations of our customers. A wide variety of technologies play a substantial role in SDL's services offering. But the idea isn't to apply technologies simply because we can. The idea is to apply technology only in those cases where it helps us to fulfill our customers' needs. The focus in on the customer, not on the technology.

Apologies for the somewhat off-topic posting. But I needed to stand up for the hundreds and hundreds of professional translators around the world who do outstanding work for SDL's customers.

Thanks for your comment!

--Jay Marciano
9/12/2007 04:48:00 PM
Comment by Anonymous Anonymous
Thank you for your insight on plagarism!!!!!!
9/17/2007 03:28:00 PM
Comment by Anonymous Anonymous
yes, but the site clarifies that its translations represent a 'gist' and not a translation of a language the way it is sometimes spoken. Clearly, you should aprehend your 'longer' documents with a real person instead of a machine that does exactly what its meant to! it works as a dictionary, not a person.
Dont blame it on the machine, blame it on yourselves for being as naive as you so clearly show.
9/21/2007 10:40:00 AM
Comment by Anonymous Anonymous
Just to follow up on my recent post regarding
"...whats to say that your translators are not just running your clients documents through a piece of machine translation software or even through the free translation software from your website."

I have used translation companies before and I must admit the quality of work is poor. I discovered a vast majority are freelancers and most likely you have anywhere up to 100,000 or more in your database. How do you know the translator is up to the job? Your control is limited over what qualifications they can prove.
11/06/2007 05:17:00 AM
Comment by Anonymous Anonymous
I not sure I understand what you mean in this blog. I use the service to see what the words are are in english, and then look up the meaning for it if needed. I am not writing a novel. How does that make it plagarism?
11/22/2007 03:16:00 PM
Comment by Anonymous avi
is there any chance that you will be able to add an arbic translation option. personally, i would find it very useful. i understand that it would be hard but i feel it would be worthwhile.
thanks a lot.
avi greenberg
11/30/2007 04:53:00 AM
Comment by Anonymous The RevolutionaryVampire-Mike
No offence, but the people that copy text from a book or any other copyrighted material are pretty damn stupid. It should be quite obvious to people that any content that you translate through a website can be easily recorded. So I ask myself
"why are people that stupid"
5/03/2008 01:13:00 AM
Comment by Anonymous John the Non-Baptist

No interest in Harry Potter, but didn't know how to start a new post!

I use your free translation service from time to time (for which I thank you!), and find it useful, keeping in mind what should be obvious to anybody with a minimal number of brain cells: that a computerized translation can NEVER provide a precise and idiomatic translation of ANY language, nor should any of your bloggers expect it to.

As a matter of fact, some major world languages have regional dialects within the same country that are so different from each other that someone from one area may not understand someone from another.

Having said that, I congratulate you on the courtesy you show in your blog responses, in spite of the churlish attitude displayed in some of the comments.

A little common courtesy goes a long way, guys.

Try it, you might like it!

John the Non-Baptist
5/12/2008 04:21:00 AM
Comment by Anonymous translator
I agree with Jose on this issue.
I fully understand the logic of your point regarding machine translation.
8/24/2008 08:16:00 AM
Comment by Anonymous Anonymous
I am trying to translate English to Pinyin, but in romanicized alphabet, not Chinese characters. Can you help?
9/30/2008 06:02:00 AM
Comment by Blogger Anthony
hahaha, now that you've said that all people have to do is hit "Ctrl F" and replace words like "Dumbledore", "Hermione", "Voldemort" or even "Portkey" with other's just to change em back aftewerds.
This can be done with the simple implementation of such a program we all know as "Microsoft Word".

what would you do to counter this then?
1/19/2009 06:17:00 AM
Comment by Anonymous olga
English speaking people are lucky - they can read this book in original. In my country people wait almost two month for translation, even that this translation proved to be the fastest in the world.
1/31/2009 05:59:00 PM
Comment by Anonymous knight
Thank you..
4/16/2009 06:48:00 PM
Comment by Anonymous Site Translator
Machine translation will never replace a human translator or should I say not for a while yet anyway :)
6/25/2010 05:11:00 AM
Comment by Anonymous Emma
Really interesting, also understandable that they are trying to protect their novel.

However I prefer reading it in the original language and have no intentions so far becoming a translator for literature.

7/29/2010 04:46:00 AM
Comment by Anonymous Harry Potter
Good work guys, translation texts if its done by people or machines, it is always a great start to share information. Some little mistakes can always happen, but that doesn't have to spoil the fun of at least having a translation.
8/15/2010 01:38:00 PM
Comment by Anonymous Johnssius
Fortunately I can speak english, so I didn't have to wait The Deathly Hallows to be translated in to swedish.

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