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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Movies Pirated in Projection Booths

Russian video pirates have found an ideal way to get a hold of quality copies of Hollywood blockbusters the very moment they are being released on screen: They copy the film right in the projection booths of modern movie theaters.

Movie copyright holders are aware of the problem, but can't catch the theaters responsible.

According to the Russian anti-piracy organization, or RAPO, of the 115 million videotapes sold in Russia last year, only 20 million were licensed. Out of 20 million DVDs only 450,000 to 500,000 were published legally. RAPO estimates that pirated DVDs account for some 85 percent to 90 percent of the market.

Just recently, in order to get a film copy, Russian DVD pirates had to work with their Western counterparts. There were two ways to steal a brand new movie not yet released on DVD -- you could get a hold of a promotional copy or film it with a video camera during the showing (Such copies are called ekranki or "screenies.")

There are downsides, though. Promo copies are not always issued and they are hard to obtain. And you can't get a quality copy with a video camera.

Yet this spring, DVDs of better than ekranki quality became available in Moscow. DVD sellers refer to them as "rolls" (ruloni), "scans" (skany) or "quality" (kachestvo). You can find the entire repertoire of Moscow movie theaters on rolls -- apart from the original quality films that the pirates were able to steal elsewhere.

A video pirate, who chose to remain anonymous, said the technology behind the copying process was quite simple. All modern movie theaters' projection rooms have control monitors that display video and sound from the original cinefilm. To get a "roll," one needs to plug this monitor to a computer that would digitize a movie in order to get a DVD-quality copy. The source said this copying process is used by one of the largest Russian pirating studios.

"It is technically possible," said Alexander Timofeyev, director general of Investkinoproyekt, a company that owns the multiscreen Kinoplex na Leninskom. "Some of the modern Moscow theaters have such a system."

Vladimir Murov, a member of the Investkinoproyekt board, said that strangers are not allowed into the projection room without the management's knowledge. A violation of this rule would result in the immediate dismissal of the employee responsible. And, Murov said, "movie distributors have not yet demanded to tighten the control of the projection zone."

Viktor Zlotya, deputy director of RAPO, said distributors have developed an invisible identification mark for movie programs that allows them to determine in which theater a copy was made.

Yet not a single movie theater that cooperated with the pirates had been pinpointed.

Yana Shmeleva, a spokeswoman for East-West, a company that works with Dreamworks, Paramount and Universal Studios, says East-West doesn't monitor where the pirated products come from.

"The overall level of piracy is so high that it makes no sense. 'Hulk' was available to buy a full month before a final cut was finished in the West," she said.