Last Harry Potter book may have leaked online

Digital photographs said to be showing pages of book surface on several sites

The widely anticipated last novel in the Harry Potter series may have been leaked online several days before its official release set for July 21.

Several sites, including the BitTorrent file-sharing site Pirate Bay, have displayed photos in the past two days that posters claim to be all of the pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final novel of the series by author J.K. Rowling.

Another site has photos of what is described as the official table of contents and the epilogue of the book. [Editor's note: Possible "spoilers" listed.]

Scholastic Inc., the U.S. publisher of the book, would not comment on the online postings.

However, it did acknowledge Wednesday that it planned to file lawsuits against distributors Levy Home Entertainment and, charging that their shipments of the books on Tuesday were a "breach of the on-sale agreement" between Scholastic and the distributors. Scholastic said the two firms distibuted one hundredth of one 1% of the total U.S. copies to go on sale.

"We are also making a direct appeal to the Harry Potter fans who bought their books from and may receive copies early requesting that they keep the packages hidden until midnight on July 21, the statement noted.

According to TorrentFreak, a blog that follows the news about the BitTorrent peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol, several fake torrents surfaced that had claimed to be the book. The blog adds that the more recent postings are of real photographs of the book.

"The main complaint that's coming up in the comment threads of these sites is that the quality isn't great," according to TorrentFreak. "You can barely manage to read each page. And, as some downloaders promptly noted, a few pages cannot be read at all without editing the images in Photoshop."

Bruce Schneier, a noted computer security blogger and chief technology officer of BT Counterpane Internet Security Inc., wrote in his blog that it would have been virtually impossible to prevent an online leak of the manuscript.

"There are millions of copies of the book headed to all four corners of the globe," Schneier wrote. "There are simply too many people who must be trusted in order for the security to hold. All it takes is one untrustworthy person -- one truck driver, one book store owner, one warehouse worker -- to leak the book."

In addition, Schneier predicted that the pirated copies will serve to bolster the public frenzy around the novel's release.

Posters at MuggleNet, a Harry Potter fan site, had varied opinions about the authenticity of the digital photographs. Some contended that the pirated photos seemed to be authentic, while others noted that the writing style did not coincide with previous Harry Potter books.

A user posting under the name "Sirona," for example, wrote, "I wouldn't fret -- that 'spoiler' does not look like anything Ms. Rowling wrote at all. Not the same style -- it's rather bad actually. The sad fact is that there are simply people who want to be the center of attention and will do anything to achieve that end."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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