Twentieth Century Fox has sent letters to internet service providers (ISPs) asking them to disable the accounts of people showing Planet Of The Apes (pictured left) on the world wide web.
The Fox move is one of the most visible to date as Hollywood studios become more aggressive in their drive to protect copyrights and intellectual property.
Last week studios, cable and satellite companies threw their weight behind a new standard for digital video protection. The new standard for non-compressed material, called "digital-video interface with high bandwidth digital content protection" is now backed by Walt Disney, Warner Bros., Sony Pictures Entertainment, Fox Entertainment, DirecTV, Echostar/Dish, Thomson Multimedia, Cable Television Laboratories and the Satellite broadcasting & Communications Association.
New file sharing devices have allowed piracy to move from server based companies to the desktop computers of millions of individuals. "It's evident that Internet piracy is proliferating and [Planet Of The Apes] is a very important property to our studio," said Florence Grace, a spokeswoman for Fox.
The letter asks ISPs to track back the users that advertise the address of their home computers and the material they have stored on them and then to pull the plug. "We trust that we will be able to count on your prompt action .. to disable such infringing postings and/or downloads and stop the infringement of our rights," said Fox in a letter which acknowledged that Planet Of The Apes, being a sci-fi picture, would be particularly popular with pirates.
But despite a welter of infringement action letters - cable group Verizon said it received 180 in June compared with two a month at the beginning of the year - ISPs are wary. Verizon said that the request was an attempt to shift responsibility for policing onto the ISPs and was outside the requirements of the law. Earthlink said that it was not possible to take action against individual files unless these were stored on a server or news-group. But Excite@Home and Adelphia are known to have terminated users' accounts. The studios argue that even if the pirate files are on individual computers the ISP may also be infringing copyright as they provide the connection that makes it public.
Until now the huge size of files containing feature films has largely protected film companies from the troubles faced by music operators over the last two or three years. But a combination of factors make protective action by the studios a matter of urgency; the proliferation of high speed internet connections and compression and sharing software and the studios' desire to distribute their own material via the web.
Last week's standards agreement is seen as important as studios currently will not allow films and programming to travel through a digital interface without copy-protection. The new standard for uncompressed material is expected to complement another for compressed content, which has so far been backed by Warner Bros and Sony.
* Digital technology group Zeroes & Ones said that it had successfully put five full length features on a single DVD using its MC-10 compression software. In a prototype it digitised City Of Angels, Back To The Future, E.T., Robocop and Batman & Robin.
* The World International Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) is to hold its second major conference on electronic commerce and intellectual property (Sept 19-21) in Geneva. The high powered event is likely to be attended by government leaders as well as corporation heads.