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Harry Potter and the Online Leak

In the unlikely event that you missed it, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows appears to have been leaked online. (Note: neither of the stories linked to in the previous sentence actually contain spoilers.) All 759 pages of the book have been photographed and posted to various illegal or quasi-legal file-sharing sites. Potter publishers, including Raincoast here in Canada, are stressing that this could be a forgery, which, frankly, seems highly unlikely. As Motoko Rich writes in The New York Times:

Doris Herrmann, an English teacher in Clear Lake, Tex., who is also a project coordinator for the Leaky Cauldron (leakynews.com), another big fan site, said: “I hate to say it, but it really does look authentic.” She said that while it was possible to work wonders with Photoshop or other programs, it would be difficult to write a whole manuscript, typeset it like the originals and then photograph the whole thing.

Yes, yes it would. Common sense, surely, though Rich got an English teacher to say it, just in case anyone needed convincing.

Publishers are also appealing to media and hackers to think of the marketing, er, the children. Again, from the Times:

Lisa Holton, president of Scholastic’s trade and book fairs division, said the company was asking various Web site hosts to take the photos down. “We’re not confirming if anything is real,” she said. “But in the spirit of getting to midnight magic without a lot of hoo-ha, can you just take some of this stuff down.”

And here’s today’s press release from Raincoast marketing vice-president Jamie Broadhurst:

Dear Member of the Media,

We are only a few days away from the July 21, 2007 publication date for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and I wanted to write you to thank you for your continued help in respecting the wishes of both the author and her legion of fans in preserving the secrets contained within the final book in the series until one minute after midnight on that day.

As the excitement builds there is a great deal of speculation as to the outcome of the series, and several unauthenticated ‘versions’ of the last book have been posted to internet sites. It remains to be seen until July 21 what really happens to Harry and his friends and there is no confirmation as to whether the posted versions are real or elaborate fakes. The legal framework in Canada recognizes and protects the confidentiality of the book and its content until the release date chosen by the Author and the publishers as holders of the copyright, notwithstanding attempts at spoilers or other breaches of the embargo.

In the meantime, Raincoast Books calls upon the media to respect the embargo on publishing content whether validated or not, until that time.

For now, let’s forego the question of how, say, a one-sentence sum-up of whether Harry lives or dies could be considered a copyright infringement. Instead, let’s note that if publishers did exercise their legal rights “as holders of the copyright,” that would seem to be a tacit admission that the online material is genuine. (After all, they’ve apparently been allowing this Harry Potter fan fiction site to flourish uninjunctioned.)

In any case, Quillblog can’t help thinking that years of treating Potter plot details like nuclear-launch codes are now coming home to roost.