Warning slow reading Potter fans: on the net, no one is safe from the spoilers.

House of Commons housemeister Abi reported a dreadful attack on the rights of Harry Potter fans last week as they waited for the latest and perhaps last instalment.

Once hastily scanned pages of the much-awaited new Potter book were posted on a web site, taken down (oops, too late), and distributed via file-sharing as reported here, a legion of nasty little devils have been spoiling everyone’s fun by up-loading snippets in the form “… dies, hahaha!” in random, inappropriate but highly visible places, like in the comments to John Howard’s now infamous YouTube page.

The unreleased novel’s plot secrets were effectively broadcast by these cheeky killjoys to deliberately defuse the drama and anticipation for readers everywhere.

So now, beyond the routinely-claimed commercial effects of digital piracy, should we add a new offence to the litany of intellectual property crimes: intentionally undermining the pleasure of the text?

Strange new network effects have also appeared due to the ubiquity of these posts, which suddenly seemed to be everywhere on the Internet. Legions of expectant Potter readers (you know who you are), on hearing of these outrages realised that there was, for the last week, probably nowhere safe to go on the net: no way to be online without the risk of being inadvertently infected with one of these guerrilla memes, indiscriminate cluster-bombs of premature revelation peppering the online landscape, little plot viruses that leach away motivation for reading the final instalment if you are accidentally exposed to them.

An unintended consequence of this new social form of Internet ‘malware’ may be that, in order to preserve your blissful ignorance of key plot twists until you turn the last page of the tome, fans may be reluctantly obliged to seek temporary safe haven in real work offline, rather than risking accidental exposure tooling about on the net ‘for research’ as usual.

Don’t go reading the paper though — just when we were sure this pathetic plot-rot was the work of bratty 12-year-olds, along comes Sydney’s Sun-Herald to restore our faith in the Fourth Estate and Old Media’s race to the bottom: there, on page 10, in upside-down back-to-front writing you can only read in the mirror, were four of the (ex-)secrets.

(OK, admittedly this was after the witching hour of publication — but the modus operandi was the same as the net culprits’, curse them all.)