The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) widened its fight against movie pirates yesterday by mounting its first legal action in the English High Court against DVD copying firm 321 Studios.

The MPAA, which has been involved in a series of legal claims and couter claims against 321 Studios in the US, is seeking an injunction to prevent the firm selling its software which enables users to back up and copy DVDs.

"Companies that stand to profit from the violation of copyright laws should be brought to book," said MPAA Jack Valenti. "The law does not allow for the copying of commercial DVDs, and technologies designed to get round copyright protection are plain unlawful,".

The MPAA, which estimates that unlawful copying costs the global film industry around $3bn every year, is bringing the action through Herbert Smith, solicitors to Warner Home Video UK.

The lawsuit alleges 321 Studios software circumvents anti-copy protection encyption on DVD's enabling users to copy films at will.

"The 321 Studios software is a flagrant breach of section 296 of the 1988 Act, which outlaws the sale of devices or software which are designed to defeat copy-protection. We want the High Court to grant an injunction against 321 Studios so as to prevent the sale of this software to consumers in the UK," said Nick Gardner an intellectual property partner at the legal firm.

321 Studios meanwhile has been fighting the MPAA since last April when it filed a US suit against MGM Studios, Tristar Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Time Warner Entertainment, Disney Enterprises, Universal City Studios, The Saul Zaentz Company and Pixar Corporation.

The suit cited the first ammendement and sought to challenge the legality of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act passed in 1998 which outlaws the copying of commercial DVDs.

"This lawsuit involves the ability of a small Internet company to market and sell an instruction manual and bundled computer software that teaches legal owners of DVD movies to make legitimate backup copies of the contents of a DVD for their own personal use," the suit said.

Since then both sides have sued and counter sued each other, though the US courts have yet to reach a verdict.

MPAA insiders said they were confident that the High Court would rule in the trade body's favour when it decides the issue later this year

"We are determined to prevent the sale of such software in the UK," said one source. "We will be mounting a very robust case."