Image: Pirated
A version of the newest Harry Potter book appeared online this weekend.
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msnbc.com

Last month, rumors swirled that Internet pirates were distributing copies of the new Harry Potter book well in advance of its blockbuster release. The rumors proved false — or, at least, premature. The moment that “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” went on sale around the world, pirates went to work. Only hours after the first Potter fan forked over $29.95 to read the fifth installment of J.K. Rowling’s epic series, Internet pirates began reading the book for free.

THIS WEEKEND’S RELEASE of the “The Order of the Phoenix,” perhaps the most-anticipated book release in history, generated record sales. U.S. publisher Scholastic estimated that 5 million copies of the book were sold on the first day.

But not every Potter fan paid for the book. Copies of “Order of the Phoenix” are now being distributed by pirate groups on the Internet. While the book is a hefty 870 pages, the digital file is relatively compact; at 1.8 mb, it’s about the size of a few digital music files. The copy viewed by MSNBC.com was created in Microsoft eBook Reader format.

According to an information file which accompanied the book, the digital version was created quickly by a small army of pirates who scanned in the pages of the book manually, then stitched their files together using the Microsoft platform.

“We don’t normally do ebook... but this is not an ordinary book,” the note said. “We spent hours correcting to our best knowledge this text. And have read it many times and we hope you enjoy it.”

Under the “copyright” section of the book, the pirates urged readers to buy a paper copy of the book as well.

“We recommend that you purchase this book also/after you read it, since it is one of the best written books of all time,” it says.

A Microsoft spokesman confirmed that there was no authorized eBook Reader edition of the latest Harry Potter book, but said he couldn’t comment on the pirated version.

EBOOK PIRACY GROWING PROBLEMScholastic didn’t immediately return phone calls. But the company has gone to great effort to protect its Potter copyrights. It filed a $100 million lawsuit last week against the New York Daily News, after the newspaper published an excerpt of the fifth book before its publication.

Author J.K. Rowling and her publishers have also had to deal with global efforts to pirate the Harry Potter franchise. In China last year, an anonymous author released “Harry Potter And Leopard Walk Up To Dragon,” which purported to be the fifth book in the Potter series — it was a fake. And in November, movie pirates began trading copies of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” before the film’s official release.

While electronic book piracy has received little of the fanfare of music or movie piracy, book industry groups say it’s a sizable problem. Last year Envisional Ltd., a British digital rights management company, issued a report claiming 7,300 paper books have been scanned and pirated using online file-swapping services like KaZaa.

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