CJ Exclusive: Russia’s Largest Cinema Chain Abandons Piracy Plans

By Patrick von Sychowski | August 2, 2022 9:33 am PDT
Universal's "Minions: Rise of Gru"

Russia’s largest multiplex operator has abandoned plans to show Hollywood films by utilising a loophole of dubious copyright legality. United chain Kino Park and Formula Kino was getting ready to screen Universal Picture and Illumination’s “Minions: the Rise of Gru” as a ‘cinema product’. However, the plan was abandoned at the last minute at the behest of the company’s board.

Russian cinemas have taken a financial hit since Hollywood studios halted the release of new films, following Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine on 24th of February this year. Over 70% of the cinema box office in Russia has historically depended on Hollywood titles. The attempt to replace the missing tentpoles with re-releases of Soviet films and sourcing movies from India, South Korea and Latin America has done little to make up for the loss of films such as “Top Gun Maverick” and “The Batman”. Some smaller cinemas have resorted to piracy through so-called torrent screenings of illegally downloaded films, often through private cinema rentals. 

As first reported abroad in Polska Times, the merged cinema chain Kino Park and Formula Kino planned to screen “Minion” as a ‘cinema product’ attached to a screening of a Russian animated title. Only the Russian distributor would get a share of the ticket revenue. According to the cinema chain’s general manager Alexei Vasyasin, quoted in Vedomosti, more Hollywood films could be shown as part of such copyright-busting double-bills, as long as sanctions against Russia remained in place. 

Kino Park and Formula Kino have 585 screens across 76 sites throughout Russia. The ticket prices for the ‘cinema product’ screenings would depend on the time of day and location of the cinema, ranging from 168 rubles (USD $2.79) to 670 rubles (USD $11.14) for an evening screening at a Moscow cinema.

The plans for the ‘cinema product’ screenings were abandoned on the same day that they were intended to start (1 August 2022), with tickets refunded and no screenings having taken place. According to a report in Inc. Russia the company’s board of directors decided that such a copyright violation would be “unacceptable”. The Russian cinema trade body had earlier warned that the rise of unauthorised screenings in cinemas risked plunging Russia back into the IP right chaos of the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the cinema market. 

While Russia’s war on Ukraine has resulted in cinemas destroyed and staff killed in Ukraine, the withdrawal of Hollywood films from Russia and Belarus has been one of the most effective sanctions tools deployed by the West. There is a real fear that up to half of Russia’s cinemas could face closure this month due to a lack of films and lack of audiences. The decision by the board of Russia’s largest cinema chain shows that it is not (yet) willing to make itself a global copyright pariah and is hoping for a resumption of regular business when sanctions are lifted. Given that Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine is now in its sixth month, there is no sign of Hollywood going back to business as normal any time soon. 

Patrick von Sychowski
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