Warner Bros. said on Monday it would soon begin selling movies and television shows in Germany, Austria and Switzerland using a peer-to-peer network, embracing the very technology that has rattled the entertainment industry.
Starting in March, the new service, called In2Movies, will allow paying consumers to download a limited selection of Warner Bros. films and TV programs, including "Batman Begins" and "The O.C.," from central servers and from other users who have the desired files.
As connection speeds have improved, other services such as BitTorrent and eDonkey have increasingly been used to illegally download copyrighted movies and TV shows, with P2P traffic using as much as 60 percent of the Internet's total bandwidth, according to some estimates.
"One of the most effective weapons for defeating online piracy is providing legal, easy-to-use alternatives," said Kevin Tsujihara, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group.
In the first half of 2005, 1.7 million Internet users illegally downloaded 11.9 million movies in Germany, Warner Bros. said.
Warner Bros., owned by New York-based media conglomerate Time Warner (TWX), said the German-language markets were only a first step and it soon plans to widen the use of P2P networks.
"Our initial efforts will focus on the German market, but in the months ahead we will leverage this technology to better serve markets around the world," Tsujihara said.
Films will be made available to registered users of the In2Movies service on the same day they are released on DVD in the German language. In addition to the studio's blockbusters, In2Movies plans to sell local programming and material supplied by third parties.
The first version of the technology will allow content to be downloaded onto computers. A later version will enable users to store movies and TV shows on portable devices.
A centralized component of the technology ensures the protection of copyrights, Warner Bros. said, while file-sharing aspects help distribute the large files more efficiently.
Britain's publicly funded broadcaster, the BBC, is also testing a service called iMP, which functions as a P2P network and lets viewers watch shows such as soap opera "EastEnders" on their computers.
Most of the Hollywood studios have held talks with BitTorrent, which uses a similar technology, but is also widely used for piracy.