The Hacking of Harry Potter

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As it happens I’m hard at work on a large-ish story about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, so it hasn’t escaped my attention that some hacker somewhere is claiming that he grabbed a copy of the book off a Scholastic computer and posted information about the ending.

Coupla things to say about this. One, it’s surprising in a way that this hasn’t happened sooner. Movie studios and record labels take great pains to keep digital copies of their products from getting out on the Net. And yet they always do. And compared to those larger, richer, more digitally savvy industries, book publishers are relative amateurs at this kind of digital security. If Eminem and Jay-Z and Metallica can’t record albums without them getting leaked all over the Intertron, how are publishers supposed to cope? Especially since text files are relatively small, even when at maximum fidelity, as it were — no such thing as a lossy format when you’re dealing with words.

But two, contrary to what I just wrote, there is almost no chance this is real. This is a hacker bragging on a bulletin board. That’s what hackers do. The Reuters story linked above is inadvertently humorous on this score. Besides referring to Scholastic spokesperson Kyle Good as a man — she is in fact a woman — it quotes David Perry from Trend Micro (a very smart and sensible person; also of the male gender) as saying “there is a good chance that Gabriel’s claim could be a hoax.” Shyeah. Hacker culture is a culture of lying about what you did. Without credible scans of actual pages, there’s no way I’m getting on board with this. Or devoting any more space to this.

Except — three — to point out the obvious, which is that the whole premise of ruining a book by revealing the ending is hopelessly flawed anyway. Quoth the hacker Gabriel: “We make this spoiler to make reading of the upcoming book useless and boring.” That idea is based on a reductive, impoverished idea of what makes reading pleasurable. Books are not data. Just because you know how they end doesn’t mean you’ve had the deeply awesome experience of reading them. You can’t spoil a book like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by revealing its ending. That would not render the book useless and boring, that’s not how reading works. It’s just not that easy to ruin something that awesome.