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The monster awakes: Kong set for groundbreaking online release

Are the days of the movie pirate numbered? Universal is all set to take away the illict thrill of downloading movies from peer-to-peer -- King Kong will be available to buy online

In the past, the movie industry has behaved a lot like King Kong, wandering wounded through the Internet, lashing out at anything that looks like it might pose a threat. But it looks like someone's shot a tranq into the beast, and it's had a change of heart. Universal Pictures announced yesterday that it would release Peter Jackson's King Kong online and offline simultaneously from 10 April.

This means that Johnny Filmhead can pay £19.99 to download King Kong on the day of its release. He'll also get the film posted to him on DVD. The move is a collaborative effort between Universal, LoveFilm and AOL. Universal plans to release a further 30 films in this way. The decision is unique because the service is run on a 'download to own' basis -- there is DRM attached to the movie you download, but it will not expire, and you'll receive a geniune DVD copy in the post.

It's a huge departure from the movie industry's first reaction to the Internet, which was one of wide-eyed fear. It seems strange that Universal hasn't chosen to commit to a completely online-based distribution system, like iTunes. Nor have they priced the download option competitively. The average new DVD release costs £15.

One movie pirate we spoke to (who didn't want to be named, for obvious reasons) explained how he often bought DVDs of movies he'd downloaded, but would not be using the new service from Universal because of the extra cost and the time it takes for studios to release a film on DVD. King Kong has been available illegally on peer-to-peer networks and BitTorrent for months, but Universal is only just getting around to bringing it out on DVD.

It'll be interesting to see how Universal's plans develop. Especially now there are persistent rumours that Apple will launch a widescreen iPod and a more substantial iTunes video store later in the year. -CS