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Russian classics return to Russia

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Russian classics return to Russia

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drawing, old man
Crossposted with the older "Animatsiya".

An animator.ru report (translated by me):

The businessman Alisher Usmanov has bought the international rights to a library of classic Soviet animated films from the American company Films by Jove and given them to the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company. The collection was priced between 5-10 million dollars. The management of the Soyuzmultfilm Film Fund, which has been fighting with FBJ for the legal rights to the library for several years, has already promised to raise objections to the new owner of the collection, writes "Kommersant".

The Americans owned the screening/video rights to about 525-550 Soyuzmultfilm films (about 80 hours) outside the borders of the CIS, including "Cheburashka", "The Snow Queen" and "Maugli". FBJ is owned by the American residents Oleg Vidov (who played the main role in the film "The Headless Rider") and his wife Joan Borsten. According to a close source, the sum paid was between 5-10 million dollars.

The first word about talks between FBJ and Alisher Usmanov appeared this April. Back then, the two sides could not agree on a price: Mr. Usmanov offered FBJ 2-3 million dollars. According to a close source, the owners of the company appraised the archive as being worth 10-20 million dollars. Television market rights experts believed that the maximum price of the collection was 10-12 million dollars, taking into account the fact that the library is the object of a legal battle between FBJ and the Soyuzmultfilm Film Fund in American courts. The Soyuzmultfilm Film Fund owns the rights to the Soyuzmultfilm library on the territories of Russia and the other CIS countries.

According to Joan Borsten, one of the conditions which FBJ insisted on was the creation of a fund for supporting Soyuzmultfilm veterans in Russia by Alisher Usmanov. Mr. Usmanov refused this condition. His representatives have abstained from commenting about the matter.

Anton Zlatopolskiy, the "CEO's first replacement" [?] of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company insists that the collection will become the property of the children's channel "Bibigon", launched by the company last week. The ARSTRC also plans to use "Usmanov's library" in its international channels -- "RTR-Planet", "RTR-Planet CIS" and "Planeta-Sport". The company is willing to grant the rights to the collection to the government in "certain isolated cases".

The process of turning over the rights is not yet complete. According to Mr. Zlatopolskiy, the ARSTRC's and Usmanov's lawyers are currently working on the possibility of the agreement, "in order to abide by all the formalities", because gift-giving between two legal entities is impossible by law. It is not out of the question that Alisher Usmanov will give the animated collection as an individual: in that case, ARSTRC will avoid large tax payments.

The film library remains a subject of legal contention, reminds Vasiliy Shilnikov, director of the Soyuzmultfilm Film Fund. He stated yesterday that while he has no official information about the agreements between FBJ, Usmanov and ARSTRC: "In any case, none of this removes our ambition to prove the nullification of the 1992 agreement between FBJ and the leased enterprise of Soyuzmultfilm. At that time, the leased enterprise made a 10-year contract with FBJ (with the right to extend it to 30 years) for the rights to 1259 films (running 320 hours) beyond the borders of the CIS. The leased enterprise itself only owned these rights from Soyuzmultfilm until the year 1999. Mr. Shilnikov is ready to start "flexible talks" with ARSTRC: "If they return the international rights then we, for example, will grant them the Russian rights under beneficial arrangements, or find another way of settling the question". "The most important thing is that the collection has returned to our country, to a government film company," stated Anton Zlatopolskiy, "the rest is just a theoretical dispute between rightholders."

Some more information::

According to Akop Kirakosyan, current director of the OTHER Soyuzmultfilm (the one which focuses on the creative work of making new films), the original deal seemed promising at the time but turned out to be "deadly" for the studio.
The deal was the first international offer that the studio had received. As part of the return, Soyuzmultfilm would receive 37% of the net profits.
The expected payouts never materialized because Films by Jove never posted any net profits; all of the money officially went to things like new soundtracks, lawsuits and anti-pirating measures.

In 1993, newly-elected director Skulyabin extended the agreement by a further 35 years (those are Akop Kirakosyan's words... I'm not sure if that's an error or not). Films by Jove restored many of the films and released many of them on television, video and DVD in the United States and Europe, albeit usually with dubbed voices and changed music. More recently, they've released some DVDs with films in the original Russian soundtrack with English subtitles (probably due to the complaints about the lackluster English dubs). Much of their collection can currently be viewed for free (with commercial breaks) on the website Memocast, which I talked about earlier. In accordance with the agreement as FBJ interpreted it, the films on Memocast's site don't show up within the CIS. I don't know what will happen to Memocast now that this change of ownership is taking place. ..
  • It's good news, but I'm sad that Alisher Usmanov refused the idea of a fund for supporting Soyuzmultfilm veterans. Alas, this agreement is only business...

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