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DRM-free downloads at $2.99 a pop

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A Russian movie download site is looking to undercut Western services with cheap film downloads at typical prices of about $2.99.

ZML.com, which describes itself as a movie library, offers around 1,500 titles without copy protection. Customers can burn downloaded content onto DVDs. Titles on offer include summer blockbusters such as Spider Man 3 and 300, as well as older classics such as Apocalypse Now. Depending on quality, downloads cost from $1.99 (iPod quality) to $4.99 (DVD quality, 2.1GB movie files).

Typically, movie downloads are priced at somewhere between $9.95 and $19.95 and come encoded in Windows Media format with DRM copy protection. Prices and format vary and it's sometimes possible to find short films costing far less than this. The market is at an early stage of development.

The business model adopted by ZML is reminiscent of the controversial approach to music downloads taken by AllofMP3.com.

ZML, like AllofMP3.com, claims to be following the procedures of the Russian Organisation for Multimedia and Digital Systems (ROMS).

"All materials presented on this site are available for distribution over the internet in accordance with the license of the Russian Organisation for Multimedia and Digital Systems (ROMS) and intended for personal use only. Further distribution, resale or broadcasting is strictly prohibited," ZML's terms of service state, adding that users cannot download files from the site if it violates the laws of their country.

ROMS has been booted out of CISAC, the international copyright confederation, so the legality of ZML's service is almost certain to be challenged. It can expect to encounter many of the problems faced by buccaneering music service AllofMP3.com.

AllofMP3.com's founders face criminal proceedings in Russia as well as a raft of civil actions against the firm by the music industry internationally. Denis Kvasov, boss of Media Services, the company behind AllofMP3.com, was cleared of copyright violation in August.

The AllofMP3.com download service was suspended in July following pressure from the Russian government, which is in negotiations to enter the World Trade Organisation. Users can reportedly transfer balances to MP3Sparks, a sister site also run by Media Services but licensed under a different regime.

Even if AllofMP3.com returns it will face funding problems. Visa and Mastercard removed card processing facilities last year forcing AllofMP3.com to set up a voucher scheme, which itself led to the arrest of a UK reseller in May 2007.

ZML.com is hosted in the Netherlands, a factor that could improve download speeds but may bring legal problems sooner rather than later. The site does not accept Visa or Mastercard payments for films directly. Would-be ZML users must first register for an account and fund it before purchasing any content. It's not immediately certain whether this process is secure.

A contact number for ZML.com is given as Ullan Management LLP, a firm which shares the same Birmingham, UK number with IN Media LLC of Russia.

ZML.com was not available for comment this morning, but we left a message on its answerphone. ®

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