The volume of film-related internet piracy is higher than previously thought, and could rise further with the anticipated growth in take-up of broadband internet connections.

According to Bruce Ward, technical director of Net PD, a London-based company which provides internet protection services for copyright holders, current estimates that there are over 160,000 illegal downloads of The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring per month are "low".

"It's a large problem and it's going to get much larger," Ward told Screendaily.

The problem has been exacerbated by the demise of Napster as a free music file-sharing entity, which has helped put the spotlight on other types of content and other file-sharing programmes. "From our studies, the amount of content has grown since Napster went down," said Ward.

New software from the likes of FastTrack allows users to swap large files, such as films, which can take only slightly longer to download than the film's running time. And the range of content is not limited to new releases such as The Lord Of The Rings. "It's across the board," said Bruce Ward. "You can probably find Gone With The Wind if you want."

More problematic is the market in pirate DVDs and VCDs (video compact discs), onto which internet-sourced content can be burned. According to the MPA, over 20 million pirate optical discs were seized worldwide in 2000, compared with the seizure of 4.5 million videos.

"Most DVD players will play VCDs," says Ward. "A hot topic of discussion online is how to convert content onto VCD."

The problem is still relatively limited in some markets -- such as the UK -- where broadband penetration is still relatively low. But as the cost of broadband internet connection and installation falls, the volume of large file swapping is likely to rise.

According to the MPA, the US film industry loses over $3bn annually due to piracy.

Net PD, which has worked with games, software and music industry clients to protect their copyright content online, has been talking to studios and film bodies.