Harry Potter movie leak: piracy or publicity?

A snippet of the movie Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 has hit the Internet, although how it ended up there remains a mystery. Warner Bros. has launched an investigation into the matter, but some still believe it was a publicity stunt to generate more interest, days before the film’s global launch.

The clip contains the first 36 minutes of the film, which can now be easily found via BitTorrent. The pirated material reportedly originated from a screener, but Warner Bros. officials said screener copies of the movie were never made.

Harry Potter movie leak: piracy or publicity?

“A portion of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 was stolen and illegally posted on the Internet,” Warner Bros. noted in a statement released yesterday. “This constitutes a serious breach of copyright violation and theft of Warner Bros property. 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.”

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The film officially launches in the US, UK and most nations on Friday, but has been already been released in Australia, Russia, Egypt, and select other markets.

The Harry Potter movies have proven to be some of the most successful — and most pirated — films in history, with the Harry Potter: Half Blood Prince tallying almost 8 million illegal downloads in 2009.

Last year, an unfinished version of X-Men: Origins was leaked to the Internet about one month before its launch, and the entire film was viewed by more than 4.5 million people. The FBI eventually arrested the person accused of leaking the movie prior to launch, with movie studios quick to involve the FBI in these situations.

I’ve long believed movie studios could leak unfinished, unedited clips of the movie to the Internet with great success. This type of guerrilla marketing raises interest in the movie — and people who want to see the film likely aren’t going to sit through 2+ hours of camcorded movie, rather than see it on the big screen.

Just because Warner Bros. officials say the film doesn’t need added publicity, and called the rumor of an intentional leak “absurd,” doesn’t mean that this wasn’t a calculated move by the studio. It seems a little too fishy that only a short preview of the entire film was leaked, rather than the entire version. Movie analysts expect the latest Harry Potter to shatter film records.

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