SAN JOSE, Calif. — Apple Inc. is preparing to announce next month the long-rumored launch of a movie rental service through its online iTunes Store, as well as a groundbreaking licensing deal of its anti-piracy technology — moves that could dramatically boost the appeal of digital movie distribution.

News Corp.'s Twentieth Century Fox is one of the first studios that has agreed to make its films available for rent digitally through iTunes, according to a Financial Times report Thursday that cited unnamed sources.

Apple also has agreed to license for the first time its copy-protection platform called FairPlay so the technology would be built into Fox DVD releases, allowing users to easily transfer the movies from the disc to a computer or an iPod for playback.

Representatives at Apple and Fox declined to comment.