International isolation is making life tough for Russian businesses that earn money from content — movies, games and books. As a result of refusals by Western companies to license their content for Russia amid the war in Ukraine, movie theaters are either swapping Hollywood releases for Russian titles or coming up with ways to show Western hits without technically committing piracy. For publishers, it’s more complicated — but it seems that foreign books will now appear in Russian as “summaries.” The sensational memoirs of Prince Harry are set to be the first such summary released to a Russian audience.
- Despite a variety of Western boycotts, it has turned out to be easy to solve the problems of importing goods after the start of the war: in particular, iPhones and other tech products can be purchased via intermediaries in China or Central Asia. However, with intellectual property, such as movies and books, things are more complicated. Releasing them without permission from the copyright holder is an act of pure piracy, and not everyone in Russia is willing to take such risks.
- Movie theaters have come up with different ways of operating. Since last summer, small and regional chains have been offering bootleg screenings under the premise of a “free gift.” Audiences buy tickets to see a Russian film, then as a “bonus” they get to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster. This conceals piracy with a fig leaf: the theater is not technically selling tickets for a film for which it does not have the rights.
- Big cinema chains in Moscow and Petersburg have not, so far, followed suit. They are anxious not to harm their relationships with Western distributors. Cinema Park – Formula Kino, one of Russia’s biggest chains, announced in August it would offer a “pre-screening service.” However, within 12 hours it abandoned the plan, claiming it “only wished to draw attention to the plight of movie theaters.” In December, newspaper Izvestia advised Muscovites to fly to Siberia to see Avatar 2.
- Now, publishers are looking for their own workaround. And Russia’s leading publishing house, Eksmo-AST, has decided to release Prince Harry’s controversial memoirs as a “summary” – a retelling of the stories without direct reference to the original. “This summary will reflect the key ideas of the book without using excerpts from it,” the director of the publishing house told newspaper Kommersant. “The author read the book in English and will retell it in her native language.” The publisher’s lawyers believe this is permitted under Russian and foreign law — and they have plans to release other non-fiction books in the same format.
- However, other lawyers have warned that it could plausibly be regarded as piracy. “If the summary is a couple of pages, that can probably be considered a description of the book,” said Sergei Zuikov, a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property. “However, if a 500-page book appears in a 500-page summary that is as close as possible to the original length, that clearly infringes copyright.” The maximum compensation a court can order for a breach of copyright is twice the value of the materials sold. But lawyers believe it is unlikely that Western publishers would seek to pursue lawsuits in Russia at the moment.
Why the world should care
It’s a mistake to assume that international isolation and exclusion from global business is making the lives of Russians unbearable. However, it does create thousands of day-to-day challenges — and the solutions (if there are any) can be difficult to implement.