Apple should consider launching an online movie download service, argues columnist David Zeiler this morning.

Looking at the movie industry, he discusses the way in which the Motion Picture Association of America is preparing to launch a marketing campaign to educate US consumers on how piracy "hurts" the industry.

The movie business is experimenting with its own legal services, but these aren't "consumer-friendly" says Zeiler. He points to Apple's iTunes Music Store as the most elegant service to emerge for music: "An Apple Movie Store could fulfill the same role for the film industry that the iTunes Store has for the record industry. It could serve as role model and test bed for selling legal digital video over the Internet."

He added: "Consumers should be able to own the movies they download, with options for limited DVD burning". Apple's QuickTime format could be the vehicle for this, though digital-rights technologies would need to be developed.

"Apple is in a great position to develop such a service because of Apple's existing relationships with movie studios, and its success in convincing the music labels to serve content through its Music Store."

With broadband in 30 per cent of US homes there's emerging potential for widespread movie piracy. However, unlike the music industry whose leaders lacked the vision to harness the Internet before piracy hit epidemic proportions, the Motion Picture Association of America is already making plans.

Zeiler added: "As alluring as the prospect of an Apple Movie Store might be, it's unlikely such a service will appear for at least a year to 18 months."

Apple's director of QuickTime product marketing Frank Casanova refuses to comment on the possibility that the company could offer a movie downloads service, but told Macworld: "We are working to provide rights protection within QuickTime."

Apple also runs the world's biggest movie preview Web site, built entirely in QuickTime.