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Harry Potter and the case of the leaked screener [updated]

November 17, 2010 |  1:42 pm

HarryPotterDeathly Maybe Harry Potter should call Nancy Drew.

The first 36 minutes of Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1," which comes out this weekend, was leaked Tuesday on the file-sharing network BitTorrent.

The footage comes from a screener of the movie, according to a post linking to the file posted on the piracy index website Pirate Bay. Burned DVDs with portions of a movie are sometimes sent out by a studio to marketing or distribution partners or for publicity purposes.

[Update, 3:02 p.m.: A Warner spokesman said that the the footage could not have come from a screener, as no screeners of the new "Harry Potter" movie were created. He said the studio is investigating the leak, but has not yet determined the source.]

Although Web piracy remains a huge problem for the entertainment industry, it's unusual that footage leaks before a movie is released. It's much more common for the first pirated copies of a movie to hit the Internet after it's videotaped in theaters on opening day.

The last time footage from a studio event film hit the Internet before release was last year's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." An early version of that 20th Century Fox movie was leaked more than a month before it came out in theaters.

Because only the first 25% of the movie is on the Internet, it's very unlikely to impact box-office receipts for the new "Potter" film, which is tracking for a huge opening weekend that will likely top $100 million, according to pre-release surveys.

Nonetheless, Warner is taking the leak very seriously.

"This constitutes a serious breach of copyright violation and theft of Warner Bros. property," a spokesman for the Burbank studio said in a statement. "We are working actively to restrict and/or remove copies that may be available. Also, we are vigorously investigating this matter and will prosecute those involved to the full extent of the law."

The footage on BitTorrent contains a watermark that was placed on the DVD, according to the Pirate Bay post. Such watermarks are used by studios to identify the owners of screeners sent before a movie is released commercially on DVD in order to prosecute piracy incidents.

Of course, Warner Bros.' anti-piracy team will likely have a much bigger problem on its hands soon, as "Deathly Hallows" starts playing in a number of foreign countries, such as Australia, Germany and Russia, on Thursday.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1." Credit: Warner Bros.

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