Films are set to get an unique identification number - which will function in similar fashion to ISO numbers for books and music - allowing easier tracking and better anti-piracy protection.

The International Standard Audiovisual Number (ISAN) has been launched by a consortium of producers' and authors' associations in conjunction with the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).

The ISAN numbers can be burned into film masters and all subsequent copies and are expected to be a clear identifier of a particular work and versions of it. It is compatible with anti-piracy "watermarks" and existing MPEG norms.

Although not specifically intended as a rights management tool - ISANs do not cover chain of title, who has a licence or how long licences have to run - it is expected to help track circulation of films and other audiovisual content.

ISANs will be managed by ISAN International Agency (ISANIA), it was announced by collection agency AGICOA, the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC) and the International Federation of Film Producers' Associations (FIAPF).

Operational from March 2003, ISANIA is expected to be based in Switzerland and have regional offices in countries around the world.

AGICOA and CISAC are expected to contribute its archives to ISANIA and several of the Hollywood studios are understood to have expressed strong support for the initiative. "FIAPF chairman, Aurelio de Laurentiis said: "Producers can have one device to help with the identification and tracking of their films."

Producers would be expected to apply for an ISAN at the moment when a film is close to picture lock and when the agency can establish the existence of the work and that it of a nature capable of being packaged and sold.