Bootleg copies of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones have appeared on the Internet a week before the film's premiere in cinemas, according to a report in the LA Times.
The paper said that at least two versions have already popped up, distributed over Internet Relay Chat (IRC), a system often used for both communications and file-swapping. Both versions appeared to have been recorded by tripod-mounted digital camcorders at private screenings of the film, which is at the centre of a massive promotional campaign.
It has become fairly common for popular movies to appear in pirated versions before their release, with Star Wars Episode I suffering the same fate in 1999. But since that film's release, easily accessible file-swapping networks like Napster, Kazaa and Morpheus have sprung up, and sharing songs, videos and other documents around the world has become a mass-market phenomenon.
As a result of the publicity around Attack of the Clones, and its vast, loyal fan base, industry observers predict that the bootleg could gain an unprecedented audience. Movie studios are more worried that such pirated films could eat into video and DVD revenues, although the image quality is still primitive.
However, industry observers say they don't think the bootleg release will eat into ticket sales. But more unfortunate for Lucasfilm, the studio of Star Wars creator George Lucas, could be the effect on potential audiences of previewing the film's plot and dialogue, which have been generally panned in reviews.
Attack of the Clones is released in the UK on Thursday 16 May.