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Miramax, the Hollywood film studio, is to offer full-length feature films for rent over the Internet, in an experiment designed to test consumer demand for pay-per-view services.

Next Monday, Miramax will flog its 1999 release Guinevere for $3.49 - the first of 12 feature films it intends to make available on the Internet. The movie is 500MB big and takes an estimated 30 minutes to download on a high-speed connection.

It will be available from Miramax.com, Sightsound.com and the film's home site.

Once downloaded the movie can be viewed only for 24 hours, although details of the digital rights management technology used to do are sketchy.

Guinevere, which is directed by Audrey Wells and stars Stephen Rea, charts the events after a young girl from an affluent family rebels and becomes involved with a much older photographer.

It's not exactly the jewel of the Disney subsidiary's back catalogue, which also includes films like The Cider House Rules and Shakespeare in Love, but the PPV is an interesting experiment from a movie industry - which is desperately seeking ways of extracting revenues from films downloaded over the Net.

Here in Britain, broadband ISP and video-on-demand outfits such as HomeChoice offer films over the Internet, and content providers like BSkyB are piloting video on demand scheme - but the involvement of Hollywood is still interesting.

Protection

So far, film studios have directed most of their energy at attempting to shut down file-sharing services, such as Scour.com.

Hollywood, in the shape of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), also called in the lawyers to bring in to court Web sites which hyperlinked to sites hosting DeCSS, a DVD crack that unscrambles the CSS copy protection facility on disks.

Ostensibly, this was done to defend against Napster-style copyright infringements, although little evidence of piracy was offered in court. But the move raised hackles in the hacker community - particularly as DeCSS was developed as part of a project to develop a DVD driver for Linux.

In a separate move, developers of the hacker video technology DivX have released much of their work to the open source community, under a scheme called Project Mayo. DivX is a way to create and send extremely high-quality video files online and is touted by some as the technology that could do for video online what MP3 did for music.

Based on the MP4 format, DivX does not in itself break copyright protection. But this has not stopped Hollywood suits from slating it in court and elsewhere. ®

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