Publisher takes action over Potter leak

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NEW YORK -- Copies of the final Harry Potter book have already been shipped to customers by one U.S. online retailer, U.S. publisher Scholastic said Wednesday, and purported copies of the novel have flooded the Internet.

Scholastic Corp. said it was taking legal action against book distributor Levy Home Entertainment and DeepDiscount.com for breaching an embargo preventing the seventh Harry Potter book from being sold in America before 12:01 a.m./0401 GMT on Saturday. The publisher said Levy delivered the books to the online retailer.

People started receiving copies of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" on Tuesday, but the number of copies shipped only made up "around one one-hundredth of one%" of the 12 million copies due to go on sale, Scholastic said.

Photographs have also been posted on the Internet of what is claimed to be each page of the book, but Scholastic would not comment on whether they were real. Links to the pictures quickly flooded Web sites around the world.

Author J.K. Rowling appealed to fans to "ignore the misinformation popping up on the Web and in the press on the plot." The book is due to be released in the rest of the world when the clock strikes 12:01 a.m. Saturday in Britain (2301 GMT).

"I'd like to ask everyone who calls themselves a Potter fan to help preserve the secrecy of the plot for all those who are looking forward to reading the book at the same time on publication day," she wrote on her Web site, www.jkrowling.com. "In a very short time you will know EVERYTHING!"

Scholastic also issued a statement asking "everyone, especially the media, to preserve the fun and excitement for fans everywhere."

Andrew Moscrip, vice president of Infinity Resources Inc., which owns DeepDiscount.com, said the company was investigating the issue, adding: "Obviously we're taking this matter very seriously."

Levy could not immediately be reached for comment.

Scholastic delivered a subpoena on Monday to California-based Gaia Online, a social networking site for teenagers, in relation to user-posted material on the Harry Potter book.

"Gaia Online immediately removed the user-posted link from the site. ... In addition, Gaia Online has banned the user in question for 14 days," Gaia Online said in a statement.

But Scholastic is unable to remove all the photographs, which first appeared on Monday on BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file sharing system that links personal computers.

Unlike the Napster music-sharing service that was shut down by authorities several years ago, such exchanges do not go through a central service, which makes it almost impossible for the book's publishers to stop the file from being traded.

BigChampagne Media Measurement estimated that by Wednesday about one copy of the Harry Potter photographs was being downloaded per second and that 50,000 had been exchanged since Monday.

BigChampagne chief executive Eric Garland said he believes the pictures are probably legitimate.

Rowling fueled speculation about the ending of the last book when she said last year that at least two characters would be killed off and a third got a reprieve.

Tight security has surrounded Rowling's eagerly awaited final novel about the teenage wizard. The first six books have sold 325 million copies worldwide.

Potter fans reacted angrily to purported Internet leaks.

"I hate it when people ruin things like this for everyone else who wants to enjoy it the right way," one contributor wrote on Harry Potter fan site www.mugglenet.com. "I think that's just the most awful thing ever. Especially when there's spoilers where you least suspect it. People are jerks."
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