Potter fans' new foe? The Web

by Tara Cuslidge and Jeffrey Weiss

The Dallas Morning News (MCT)

19 July 2007


DALLAS - The countdown looks to be over a little early for Harry Potter fans. Digital versions of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows have started showing up on the Web days before the books’ release.

It took about 30 seconds Tuesday to find what looks to be a complete photographed copy of the book. Don’t worry - this story contains no spoilers. But copies were spreading fast to file-sharing sites.

The book’s American publisher, which has been orchestrating the buildup to the official release at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, said not to believe everything posted online.

“There is a lot of material on the Internet that claims to come from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but anyone can post anything on the Internet, and you can’t believe everything you see online,” said Kyle Good, spokeswoman for New York-based publisher Scholastic.

So it could be an elaborate hoax. But the copies look convincing to many fans. The pages are generally readable; a male’s hand appears to be holding the book open. A soda can and shoe are present in most of the pictures. The book is covered in a plastic dust jacket. (For conspiracy theorists, it appears to end on page 759; officially, the book is listed at 784 pages.)

News services reported that Scholastic lawyers had been busy ordering would-be spoilers to remove their information from several sites, although the company insisted that was not an acknowledgment of their accuracy.

The question for fans then, is: Does this matter?

For months, many fans have been making preparations for the official release of the seventh and final book in the series about the boy wizard. And many are still anticipating the real thing.

“The hardcore fans will still be out in line getting their books,” said Jenn Racek, 30. “Most of the people I know are avoiding spoilers.”

She’s still going wait for her hard copy.

“There is something about turning the page that is magic in itself,” she said.

Less patient is Aziza Aba Butain, 21, who said she’d already read the first 100 pages after a friend forwarded her the material Monday. So far, she was “mildly disappointed.”

Butain disagrees with fans who say finding out spoils everything. She said information about the end is out there for those who want it. She went seeking it, she said.

“If you want the spoilers, they are out there and you can find them easily,” she said.

Then she informed fellow fan Courtney Voorhees, who was dismayed to find that the book was out. Voorhees, 22, told Butain not to give away any details.

“I am so scared now that somebody is going to be mean and spoil it for me,” Voorhees said.

Fans had been braced for just such leaks. It’s happened before: A YouTube video shows someone yelling “Snape kills Dumbledore!” to an Arlington, Texas, bookstore crowd standing in line for the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. And well before Tuesday, Web sites claimed to have copies of the ending of Deathly Hallows readily accessible.

There was a widespread effort to curb such spoilers. J.K. Rowling herself, while revealing that two characters would die, has begged the public not to give away the ending. Wal-Mart had its employees pledge to not talk about the book, so fans “buy without fear of reveal.” The well-known Potter fan site the Leaky Cauldron sums up its stance on spoilers very clearly: “Don’t do it.”

Leah Wilson, editor at BenBella Books in Dallas, said she doesn’t think the spoilers will affect the overall sales or interest in Deathly Hallows. BenBella is publisher of books pertaining to Harry Potter, The Psychology of Harry Potter and Mapping the World of Harry Potter.

She doesn’t see the leak as malicious.

“I think it’s more about sharing information than wanting to spoil anyone’s experience,” she said.

Publishing experts agree that Tuesday’s apparent leak won’t hurt the sales of this book. But it is a warning to book publishers, said Sara Nelson, editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly.

“For the publishing business at large, this is what publishers have been quietly worried about for a long time,” she said.

Book piracy predates the digital age. Charles Dickens and J.R.R. Tolkien famously fought against unauthorized versions of their works.

But today, tens of thousands of books - best-sellers, college texts, technical manuals - have been illegally posted online, said Ed McCoyd, director of digital policy for the Association of American Publishers.

Big publishing houses pay for what might be called pirate killers, professional Internet searches for their books. When an illegal posting is found, the companies send letters to the Internet service providers demanding that the files be removed, McCoyd said.

He and Nelson agreed that piracy isn’t as big a problem for books as it is for music - yet.

“It is a lot easier to download a song and listen to it than to download a book and read it,” Nelson said.

That’s particularly true with the Deathly Hallows download. Some of the pages are hard to read and out of focus. But many other pirated books easily found online - including all of the other Potter novels - are posted as text files that are as comfortable (or uncomfortable) to read as any other text on a computer screen.

Racek, who is the founder of a Potter meeting group, said she is surprised anyone would dare challenge the United States and United Kingdom publishing giants responsible for Deathly Hallows.

“I don’t know what people think they are doing,” she said. “Why would anybody take on Scholastic and Bloomsbury like that? They’ve shown in the past that they are serious and they will prosecute.”

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