Responding to reports of widespread video piracy and apparent participation by the Soviet government, Jack Valenti, chairman of the Motion Picture Export Association of America, announced a boycott of American films to the Soviet Union.
Valenti wrote a letter to Vladimir Petrovsky, deputy foreign affairs minister of the Soviet Union, saying he had lodged a formal complaint with the State Department.The letter, dated June 4, was released Thursday after representatives of the Motion Picture Association of America expressed their concerns to the Soviet Embassy.
Valenti said in his letter that after two years the Soviet Union had failed to implement an agreement signed in September 1988 that provided a framework whereby American film companies could engage in the marketing of their films in the Soviet Union "in a manner similar to the way it is done throughout the developed world: Namely, by sharing in the proceeds of the box office receipts."
Soviet copyright revision drafts "remain inadequate and unresponsive," Valenti said.
He said that one of his deputies, Frank Tonini, reported to him following his November 1990 talks with Soviet officials on the matter "that there existed widespread video piracy throughout the USSR and that this piracy was officially condoned insofar as GOSKINO, Sovexportfilm, labor unions, the Komsomol and even perhaps the Ministry of Culture were involved in operating so-called video salons where pirated video cassettes are shown."
Citing an article in Izvestia, Valenti said it also appeared the Soviet Ministry of Finance was involved.
"The shower of gold which had drenched the video salon operators came to a halt as soon as the USSR Ministry of Finance got to hear rumors of the colossal sums bypassing the state coffers. The financiers ran a check and submitted their estimates upstairs. Since it was a matter of 10-15 million rubles a year from video showings, they were not slow in answering. A resolution was handed down from the Planning, Budget & Finance Commission of the Union Parliament - 70 percent of proceeds was to go to revenue," Valenti quoted the Soviet newspaper as saying.
Valenti said state-owned television in the Soviet Union "is also engaging in piracy. They have recently broadcast the feature films Predator and Commando, and have announced the upcoming showing of Die Hard II. None of the aforementioned films have been sold to the Soviet Union."
"In view of this unprecedented state condoned and state participation in audio-visual piracy involving MPEAA member company products, I have been asked by the presidents of the International Theater divisions of the MPEAA companies to advise you that from this date forward no films of member companies will be provided for the Moscow Film Festival or any festival to be held in the USSR," Valenti's letter said.
"Furthermore, none of our companies will engage in sales of films to the Soviet Union or any of its republics until adequate copyright legislation is approved by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and the Soviet Union adheres to the Berne Treaty on Copyright," Valenti added.
Valenti said that he would bring the matter to the attention of the State Department, the office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Information Agency.
"The member companies of the MPEAA and I personally feel that the issues referred to above are serious in nature and require speedy remedial action."