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Clinton rewritten

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.

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7 comments to Clinton rewritten

  • Make A Difference

    editor’s note: Spam deleted.

  • anonymous coward

    That is a funny story! I suppose we could call it Chinese provincialism, but they do have their reasons for thinking they are the center of the universe.

    I was visiting Taiwan when the Chinese translation of Linus Torvalds’ autobiography appeared. The English title was “Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary.” My Taiwanese friends told me that the Chinese had entitled it “He Worked Really Hard and Now He is the King of the World.” How much of the book itself was rewritten, I do not know. This was, by the way, an authorized translation (the Chinese were falling out of love with Bill Gates).

    I should point out that translators here do many odd things in order to make books comprehensible to Americans. As for all the worrying about IP and artistic purity, the Chinese have thousands of years of literary tradition that resembles our jazz tradition: take what’s out there and reuse it; leave it a little better than you found it. Like that Shakespeare fellow.

    By the way, the Taiwanese really did clean up their copyright infringement act. And the Chinese government started policing itself by making sure that copies of Microsoft software in government offices were properly licensed. The crackdown cleared a great space for Red Flag Linux to move into.

    Whatever Chinese licensing shortcomings may be now, I am sure that when they get their CD and other standards worked out, they will license the technology to Western firms eager to sell CDs and CD players to the growing Chinese market (sorry, Phillips!). They will then save the royalties they now pay to the West, and collect from us. It’s going to be a very interesting market.

  • ernest young

    Mr. Clinton explaining to Hillary that his nickname is “Big Watermelon.”

    And that was meant to be a ‘turn-on’? What a great line for a supposed ‘Romeo’…

    And how appropriate that they compared him to a fruit that is full of wind and water…

  • Scott

    The IP theft goes far beyond copying movies, music and software. Industrial design is a growing concern, especially as many manufacturers have set up shop in China to make parts or whatever, only to find counterfeit products bearing their designs, logos and even packaging turning up in foreign markets months later. Usually the rip-off goods are similar only in appearance, and are not made with the same precision or tolerances as the original products.

    The Chinese will get serious about this once their own industrial powerhouses start turning out original IP that then gets ripped off.

  • l

    If you going to set up shop in a communist dictatorship, you get what you deserve when your ideas are stolen.

  • a. penguin

    yeah, about that translation of “just for fun”. I’m sure one of the changes included removing or altering that part where linus is talking about the complexity of the chinese language, and comparing it to the micro-kernel design philosophy. i’ll bet they just loved that.

    the site is great. loved the comment on jazz music and shakespeare (^_^) what kind of music do you like to listen to?

  • ward griffith

    I’m looking for the reference for a clinton comment something like, “chinese don’t have personal property so why should they recognize intelectual property?”