"If DVD piracy is allowed to continue it means the long term death of culture," boomed David Kessler, head of France's national cinema body the CNC, speaking in Cannes yesterday at a seminar on DVD piracy.

Also involved were Nicolas Seydoux, chairman of Gaumont and MPAA chief Jack Valenti.

All three speakers argued that DVD piracy reduces revenues that could be re-invested in other films. "We need to be able to finance our flops as well as our successes. The way to do this in the long term is to protect the exploitation of audiovisual works," said Nicolas Seydoux, chairman of Gaumont.

"If you cannot protect what you own, you do not own anything," said Valenti, adding with typically purple prose said: Your cultures are like etching drawn on autumn leaves, free to be blown away in the wind."

Valenti took the debate wider and said that the switch from analogue to digital make the stakes as "different as lightening and the lightening bug. "In a radical move, Seydoux also called for artist (directors and actors) to get involved in the anti-piracy push. He argued that they have much more public and political sway than businessmen who can simply be accused of protecting copyright in order to make profits.

Seydoux and Valenti made the point that the US and European film industries had resolved most of their differences on the subject, while Kessler and speakers from the floor cited the difficulties of converting European copyright enforcement legislation into national legislation.

All three called for penalties for audiovisual piracy to be toughened and involve jail terms, rather than small fines which leave video piracy a "low risk, high reward activity."

Seydoux, who declared himself an optimist in the battle against digital piracy, also used the platform to announce his candidacy for chairman of the European anti-piracy association ALPA.