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Pirated <i>Potter</i> Floods Chinese Market

Harry Potter is alive and selling like hotcakes in China despite the local publisher's best efforts to keep him under wraps. Pirated copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince are on sale throughout the country, including Chinese-language versions available more than two months before the authorized translation is scheduled for release.

In English or Chinese, the real thing or just a cheap knock-off, the latest Harry Potter saga is on display throughout the Chinese capital.

Official English-language versions of the new Harry Potter adventure are available at bookstores in Beijing for about $20.

But Chinese bootleggers have already rushed out illegal copies. The fakes look just like the real thing - at least at first glance - but they sell for one-tenth the cost.

But you do get what you pay for, and the pirated prince is suspiciously shorter than the official version. The book's spine also seems a bit too flimsy to survive more than a few late night readings.

Details like that don't seem to matter, though. Street vendors, like this one who declined to give her name, say the book is selling well.

She says the book is just as good as the version for sale in the stores. She even offers a money-back guarantee.

Her best customers, she says, are foreign tourists looking for a good deal.

For local fans she says she also has an - equally illegal - Chinese translation.

She says the translations are so good some people even give her their business cards to reserve advance copies.

The authorized Chinese-language version won't go on sale here until October.

And for those Chinese unhappy with the book's real, rather tragic ending, unauthorized alternatives are available.

Several university students are translating the book and posting their finished work to the Internet. One translator says he was so disturbed by author J.K. Rowling's final chapter, he is offering his own version. Now, he says, everyone can live happily ever after.

The book's official Chinese publisher, the People's Literature Publishing House, says it is not amused.

The last five Chinese-language installments of the Harry Potter series have sold more than six million copies in China.

But China is also considered a global leader in copyright violations, and Potter piracy has been a huge problem from the start. It has not only cut into profits, it has also created some unusual competition.

In 2002, Chinese fans rushed out to buy Harry Potter and Leopard Walk Up to Dragon - a totally fake Potter adventure. And one in a series, at that.