Simple Solution for Russian Piracy

Editor's note: On April 7, the New York Times reported that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was planning to battle widespread DVD piracy in Russia on the only front that counts with consumers: pricing. In the report, Erin E. Arvedlund notes, Sony's "Columbia TriStar would price DVDs at no more than 299 rubles, or just over $10 . . . Warner Home Video has cut its DVD prices in Russia to the equivalent of $15."

Pictures accompanying the article show shoppers at the huge Gorbushka bazaar southeast of downtown Moscow. One of them stands near an open box of professionally produced DVDs selling for 150 rubles, approximately $5. Many titles, with liner notes in Russian, and with multiple language options, appear in the Russian market in pirated form before the films debut in commercial theaters. Gorbushka is a favorite destination of shoppers in Moscow, where well-educated workers earn an average of about $200 per month. Pirated discs are much more affordable than their authorized counterparts, and therefore much more attractive. Similar markets of varying sizes exist in most Russian cities and towns.

The MPAA is making a move in the right direction to stem the tide of piracy, but isn't going far enough, according to Leonid Korostyshevski, our man in the Russian heartland. Below is his response following the Times report.

The author of the Times article believes the roots of Russian cultural piracy lie in the history of the former Soviet state. That is not true. The state is always trying to steal the secrets of another state. That is not piracy, but a way of fighting in global politics. The roots of Russian pirates are much deeper and more dramatic. Breaking cultural laws is the natural way of life for any Russian.

What should any normal government do first? Take care of its citizens! Russians are known throughout the world as people interested in books, music, science, and so on. All interesting things are now in digital form and are easy to copy. Any normal government in this case would make an agreement with copyright holders for producing exclusive Russian copies, legal to use only in Russia and priced corresponding to the average wage of citizens.

Just think: DVDs, specially re-encoded to fit 4.5GB capacity (which the pirates did) and with soundtracks only in Russian. Is it possible? Yes. Is it hard to do? No. Would it be cheap? Yes. And if you wanted a non–re-encoded original version, you could buy a "fully authorized" version at full price. Would such a plan satisfy the cultural hunger of an average Russian? Definitely, yes.

And the same is true of software. Why not develop a Russian OS? An official system, a base set for the workplace, a free UNIX-based version, for example—all free for distribution and copying. Tell me, is this a hard task for the government of a country so full of intellectual resources? No, no, and one more time, no! It's easy. This should be an ordinary thing for any government that claims to be leading its country. Why put pressure on its own people to deliver money to private firms of other countries?

In Russia, as in most countries, the government and the people are adversaries. This is the source of all of Russia's problems at the moment. The situation in Moscow is even more extreme. Our capital city is a country within a country, something the Times reporter didn't notice. One clear proof of this is that Russians from outside Moscow must register to visit and move about the city. It would be good if we stopped pretending about this.

Leonid Korostyshevski is a computer consultant, technophile, and movie and music fan in the academic city of Saratov, Russia, on the Volga river 600 miles east of Moscow. His previous reports can be seen here.