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The truth about the leaked 'Lost' footage -- which you can also see here!

January 29, 2010 | 12:50 pm

So the first 4 minutes and 13 seconds of the "Lost" final season premiere "leaked" online this morning. It looked unofficial: "Property of ABC Studios" is stamped over the gray and grainy scenes of Juliet coughing up blood, detonating the bomb, and ... well, you're free to watch the video if you care to see the spoilery aftermath.

"Uh-oh!" cried Vulture. "Watch it before it gets 'removed'," said Dark UFO.

But could ABC be responsible for the "leak"?

Despite the media hoopla and online fan fervor, now at a high pitch as the show prepares to perhaps answer all those questions, "Lost" ratings have been on a steady decline for years. (Last season averaged 11 million viewers, down from the almost 16 million for Season 1.) Call us jaded, but it seems like a little last-minute controversy certainly couldn't hurt Tuesday's premiere numbers.

The answer is yes, ABC did leak it themselves. Sort of.

A rep for the network said the sneak peak was released to the 815 winners of ABC's "Lost" Message in a Bottle Sweepstakes. Each contestant had to answer six questions about the show online and were then entered to win a “message in a bottle.” The prize? A USB port -- resembling Desmond Hume’s fail-safe key -- that contained the footage. According to the rules of the contest, the bottles were delivered this morning.

It now looks as though those winners took it upon themselves to upload the footage to YouTube, because, hey, why deny other "Lost" fans the goods?

ABC said it plans to release the preview officially over the weekend, by which time any self-respecting "Lost" fan will have already come up with 10 theories about the 20 new questions the preview raises.

The two-hour final season premiere of "Lost" airs at 9 p.m. Tuesday on ABC.

-- Denise Martin