I do bits for this blog about intellectual property issues, and on Monday the guy who runs it emailed me with a link to this marvellous story from the New York Times. It seems that in China, they have produced a revised version of Bill Clinton’s autobiography, entitled My Life, with his love for all things Chinese greatly exaggerated, and his occasional complaints about Chinese human rights violations deleted.
…The fake version reveals a Clinton family obsessed with China’s strong points, with how Chinese science and technology “left us in the dust.” Readers will learn that the future president, to impress Hillary’s mother, had rhapsodized about such things as the Eight Trigrams, documented in “The Book of Changes” several thousand years ago. Another retranslation of the pirated translation last summer has Mr. Clinton explaining to Hillary that his nickname is “Big Watermelon.”
My Intellectual Property Editor would not, however, want me to regard this as a wholly amusing matter. China is being very naughty.
In the Western publishing world – in fact, in the Western business world – such purloined texts are no laughing matter. The American Chamber of Commerce recently singled out China’s lack of enforcement of laws against counterfeit goods and its failure to protect intellectual property rights as problems. American publishers estimate that they lose at least $40 million a year to Chinese forgeries.
This is true. I mean, it is true that China’s Intellectual Property misbehaviour is a big issue these days. If you google, as I often now do, “Intellectual Property”, you get lots and lots of hit, of two kinds. First, there are reports of how China is now going to really, really enforce Intellectual Property rights, hold a conference at which enforcing Intellectual Property rights will be intensively discussed, and generally jolly well do something about it, this time it will be different, etc.. And second, you get a chorus of complaints that this is all hot air and window dressing. Oh, and third, you get American law firms saying they can sort it all out for you: hire us and get rich, shun us and be ruined.
To be a bit more serious about the rewritten Clinton memoirs, I cannot feel very sorry for Clinton, but in any case there are other victims here. All those Chinese readers who genuinely want to read what Clinton has genuinely written (or signed) about China are getting swindled. And I would like to know if these (re)publishers rewrote the book in order to pander to Chinese readers, or to the Chinese Government. Either way, it shows the way what an enormous cultural impact, for good and for bad, China seems likely to make upon the world during the next few decades. (India also, of course.)
I wonder if this story will get really noticed, that is, noticed some more. I suspect that it might. Media scribblers are notoriously indifferent when it is merely industrialists or industrial designers having their ideas nicked, their profits stolen or their businesses regulated out of business. But when a writer has his sacred words stolen, and then worse, far worse, changed, well, that they can all really understand and get angry about.
Kudos to Alex Beels of Harper’s Magazine for translating this rewritten Clinton book back into English and thereby getting the story seriously started, although I can find no reference to this story here.