Russian filmmakers undertaking expensive projects have declared war on pirated goods and have scored their first victory. "Night Watch," the first fantasy film to be a national blockbuster, set a national record during its opening week. More than 1.5 million people went to see the film and video pirates still cannot offer anything to the fans of cheap home videos.
What secret weapon did the filmmakers use to protect "Night Watch" from illegal copying? Some potential viewers of pirated videos did not buy illegal copies because the filmmakers said that the pirated versions were most likely not the final version of the film and watching such movie would create the wrong impression of the film. But the main weapon against pirates was clever relations with law enforcement agencies.
Long before the film began showing in 325 movie theaters in Russia, Konstantin Ernst, the influential director of First Channel (a leading Russian television channel), sent a letter to the Interior Ministry asking the ministry to protect the film against potential piracy. The ministry complied and raided the largest trading centers. Everyone who could potentially be involved in piracy was strictly warned against taking such illegal actions.
The distributors of the film are also under tight control: each copy of the film was marked with a special electronic code so that if pirated copies appear, the source of the copy could be identified.
The measures taken by the police and the filmmakers to protect "Night Watch" are showing results, said Colonel Nikolai Kromkin, the deputy head of the Interior Ministry's main department of economic crime. The police did not find a single pirated copy of the film at Moscow's largest market for audio and video products, though a Web site claims that at least two pirated copies are on peer-to-peer file sharing networks.
Kromkin said that the judicial authorities need a copyright holder to request a legal proceeding before one can be launched. Unlike many countries, Russia's Criminal Code stipulates harsh punishment for the producers and distributors of counterfeit commodities (up to 5 years imprisonment).