Online piracyis more widespread and damaging to a wider range of films than generallybelieved, according to an independent study undertaken by the University ofAachen with the Partners 4 Management consultancy.

The'Available for Download' (AfD) study analysed the online availabilityof 165 theatrical releases in German cinemas between November 2004 and March2005.

Thefindings explode the popular misconception that the threat is limited to USproductions.

The AfDfound that 65% (107) of the 165 releases in the five months were available online- A third (30) ahead of the theatrical release, another third (31) on theopening weekend, and the rest (46) in the subsequent weeks.

Thestudy's findings showed that all countries have come into the bootleggers'sights.

Some 94%of the 62 US releases were available online, followed by 80% of the UK filmsand 40% of the German films.

Moreover,the researchers found that films with more than 500,000 admissions on theopening weekend - i.e. the so-called blockbusters - tended to be availableonline only once the film had been launched into the cinemas, whereas filmswith less than 100,000 admissions could be downloaded ahead of the theatricalrelease.

Accordingto the study, film distributors can directly influence when their films appearonline.

Thosedistributors who are particularly security-conscious managed to delay theonline presence of their films until after the release into the cinemas throughtighter security checks, a stricter control at previews, and an end to thedistribution of jury screeners and press DVDs.

Only 10%of their films were found on the internet before release, compared to 57% ofthe releases for distributors who were more relaxed about security issues.

'Oneof the key findings of this study is that online piracy affects arthousedistributors as well as the majors,' observed Johannes Klingsporn,managing director of the German distributors association Verband derFilmverleiher (VdF), who announced that the German film industry's anti-piracycampaign was continuing its 'Raubkopierer sind Verbrecher'educational campaign this summer.

Thisincluded the 'Jail On Tour' promotion which will let members of thepublic have a brief taste of life in a jail cell at Leipzig's Games Convention(17-28 August, 2005) and Berlin's International Radio & Television Fair(2-7 September, 2005).

Klingspornalso reported that the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Publication andInformation Systems has been developing a digital watermark to identify thesource of pirated films and suggested that the goal would be for the process tobecome an international standard in the struggle against film piracy.