Officials hunting Russian pirates

In the worst pirate market in the world after China, that translates into a blockbuster for Hollywood, which says it loses well over US$300 million a year in Russia.

On this occasion, the pirates won: Three days after the premiere, a grainy, camcorder copy of the movie that cost a reported US$125 million  to make was available on DVD for 150 rubles. Two days later, a pristine version with interactive menu was on sale for the same price.

The ease with which pirated films, music and software enter the Russian market and the increasingly ingenious means counterfeiters use to get them there are cited by U.S. Commerce Department officials as a US$1.8 billion per year barrier to Russia's entry to the World Trade Organization.

In quieter times, Zemchenko organized film festivals abroad as foreign relations director of the USSR's Union of Cinematographers.

While the pressure from Washington has been reflected in a sharp rise in police raids over the past year on optical disc plants and warehouses the number of pirate optical disc production lines in Russia has doubled over the past two years. In Russia there are 50 licensed factories housing a total of 60 DVD and 68 CD production lines, with a maximum capacity of 800 million discs per year. Zemchenko estimates 90 percent produce both licensed and pirate discs loaded with music, films and software.

This huge capacity, combined with gaps in Russia's copyright law and corruption among beat cops and movie hall staff alike, make Zemchenko's 10-day limit a tough challenge.

In the case of "The Da Vinci Code," the first version to appear was a "tryapka" or "rag" - Russian slang for the low-fi copies shot on camcorder directly in the cinema. Despite warnings shown before screenings, Russia's copyright law doesn't bar the practice: if a pirate is kicked out of a movie theater for filming, he can claim the copy was for personal use and successfully sue for the cost of his ticket.