Russia’s hot potato

MPAA chief urges an antipiracy push

Piracy topped the agenda as MPAA topper Dan Glickman met with Russian industry figures and legislators Wednesday during his first visit to Moscow in his new capacity.

Glickman’s message went beyond the usual principles of copyright enforcement to the consequences of ongoing infringement for the flourishing local film scene.

“Piracy is a dagger in the heart of the growing Russian industry,” he said after a high-level discussion at the U.S. Embassy here.

He said the cost of piracy for U.S. film product in the local market was about $266 million last year. Non-U.S. product lost $120 million, with most of that absorbed by Russian films, which were responsible for nearly 30% of local B.O. returns — a threefold rise on the previous year.

Frequency of police raids has been up this year, and recent results are encouraging. Konstantin Zemchenkov, head of the Russian Anti-Piracy Organization (RAPO), noted two raids in recent weeks on warehouses in the provincial city of Tver captured about 5 million pirated discs between them — the largest busts to date.

Glickman stressed the need for more action from the top, where it’s believed corruption has slowed change: “Much more is needed — the issue must be seen as a priority at the highest levels of the Russian government.”

In particular, he said, raids need to be followed with prosecutions, legislation strengthened and pirate duplication equipment confiscated after it’s been discovered.

The meeting was attended by Russia’s minister for economic development, German Gref, making it the highest level of contact since Jack Valenti lobbied Russia’s then-prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin almost a decade ago.

The liberal-leaning Gref, one of the few remaining reformers in Russian government, said the issue of piracy would take “some years” to resolve.

He also said that to tie it to ongoing negotiations for Russia’s World Trade Organization entry wasn’t necessarily proper.

This week Russian President Vladimir Putin said the country had received new conditions from the U.S. on its potential WTO entry. Commentators have interpreted his remarks as hinting there may be a limit on future concessions.

Some foreign industry observers who attended the conference, which was closed to press, suggested the local production community is still not flexing its muscles to enforce copyright protections. The producers of some top local films have in effect worked with pirates to protect theatrical runs and then released legal ancillary product to such outlets at discount prices, or made one-time deals with law enforcers to pay particular attention to their titles.