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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Time to Put Pirates in Their Place

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Nesting dolls, fur hats and handpainted dishes may be favorite souvenirs, but another hot buy for visitors has long been cheap, pirated movies, music and computer games.

But something changed a year or so ago. Kiosks selling pirated goods in underpasses near Pushkin Square, the Metropol hotel and Stockmann disappeared, as did sidewalk peddlers along Tverskaya Ulitsa.

The farther one travels from the tourist-favored center, however, the easier it remains to find pirated items.

Proponents of intellectual property rights have made huge inroads in pushing the government to battle piracy -- a problem that stretches from DVDs to medicines, clothing and coffee and costs copyright holders up to $4 billion per year.

Two years ago, then-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov declared the fight a priority of his government, and the State Duma has taken steps to pass tougher anti-piracy legislation.

Still, major hurdles remain no matter which laws are passed. Key is the lack of enforcement of any law by a corrupt police force. Also, many of the folks in the piracy business are very well-connected, as U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow complained in a letter to the government in 2002.

Most important, however, is the fact that the relatively low standard of living means many consumers simply cannot afford to plunk down 800 rubles for "GTA: Vice City."

After the 1998 crisis, several movie distributors took the unusual step of slashing their prices to the levels of pirated goods, partially in an attempt to keep from going under. And these days, many older movies and computer games are finally being offered at prices comparable to those of pirated ones.

But many producers continue to balk at making their goods affordable. Maybe it's time for them to seriously think about turning to strategies used in places with similar problems -- such as Southeast Asia. There, some producers cut prices so low that consumers, faced with the choice of fake versus real for the same price, went with the real.

The government, for its part, must realize that a serious crackdown would not only be good news for foreign investors but would also help pull Russian businesses out of the shadows by encouraging legal entrepreneurship -- and in the process bring down prices by promoting competition.

For now, however, a tourist can still go home with a suitcase stuffed with cheap movies. While it is harder to find DVDs downtown, all it takes is a visit to the souvenir mecca Izmailovsky Park, where the latest Hollywood hit is selling for 110 rubles, next to Putin nesting dolls and Gzhel plates.