Margherita Barié, Laurence Cohen, Duncan Curley, Thomas Hauss, Boris Uphoff
A Russian studio, Soyuzmultfilm, has applied to the Moscow Arbitration Court to obtain a ruling annulling the sale of 1,200 classic Soviet-era cartoons to a US film company.
In 1992, a Californian-based company called Films by Jove purchased the international rights to 1,200 classic Soviet-era animated motion pictures from the state-run studio Soyuzmultfilm. Films by Jove paid $500,000 for the rights to the cartoons for a 30-year period and also agreed to give Soyuzmultfilm 39.5 percent of future profits.
Films by Jove invested $3 million restoring the films which were often "scratched, bleached, ripped down the middle and held together with Scotch tape" and through a digital process re‑dubbed the cartoons, commissioning stars such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Charlton Heston and Julio Iglesias to do voice-overs.
"When the cartoons became popular around the world, the Russian Government realised how much they were worth" said Mrs Borsten, the director of Films by Jove, "the government set out to get them back with no compensation for the time and money spent on restoration".
The Russian studio’s director, Ernst Rakhimov, said the animations that were produced by the studio between 1936 and 1992 belong to Russia’s national heritage. He said that the Soyuzmultfilm studio of 1992, which was reconstituted in 1999, was not the legal owner of the rights to the studio’s productions and had no right to sell them. He added that the old Soyuzmultfilm "simply had the use of the buildings and studio facilities", and that the new company was the legal owner of the rights to the films.
For four years the catalogue of Soviet cartoons has been at the centre of a legal battle which shows few signs of ending. In August 2001, the US Federal Court found that Films by Jove had legally purchased rights from the entity authorised to grant the lease. Four months later, the Russian High Court decided in favour of Soyuzmultfilm. In April 2003, the Federal Court the upheld its original decision, but Soyuzmultfilm which had initially agreed to abide by the US judge’s decision brought the case back to the Moscow Court of Arbitration.
Film by Jove’s bill for the restoration of the cartoons and its legal fees now runs to $4 million. "We would all be in profit by now if we had not been sandbagged by legal fees" said Mrs Borsten.
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