Russia is attempting to reclaim its childhood – but tycoon Alisher Usmanov could be left out of pocket after classic Soviet cartoons were wrested back from the US.
A Moscow court found that a 1992 contract selling Films by Jove the international rights to more than 500 Soyuzmultfilm cartoons were illegal.
As a result Oleg Vidov, the Russian actor who set up the US-registered firm, was in no position to sell those rights to Usmanov for a reported $10 million.
After Vidov's studio bought the rights to exhibiting the best Soviet cartoons abroad in 1992, it started restoring them and re-voicing them with English-speaking actors. The catalogue is a roll call of childhood memories for generations who grew up in the USSR: Cheburashka, Mowgli, Hedgehog in the Fog, the Snow Queen, Twelve Months, the Golden Antelope and others.
Vidov said his studio paid about $500,000 for the rights and invested $3 million into restoration and translation of the cartoons. After it was done, Films by Jove started selling the cartoons all over the world, apart from the former Soviet Union.
In 1994 Vidov and Soyuzmultfilm extended the contract for a further 20 years. But lawyers argue that Soyuzmultfilm had no right to make agreements which went beyond its scheduled shutdown in 1999.
In 2007 one of Russia’s oligarchs Alisher Usmanov paid FBJ between $5-10 million for the rights to exhibit the cartoons abroad and passed them on to Bibigon, a children’s state-owned TV channel. “I have heard about it, but for some reason Usmanov’s lawyers were not court today in order to claim their rights, even though the process was public,” said Soyuzmultfilm lawyer Alexander Papenkov.
“If the agreement with the Americans is not valid, then neither is with Alisher Usmanov, and all the others that we do no know about and who, possibly, made a deal with the Americans,” the lawyer said.
Usmanov’s press-secretary could not comment on whether Moscow court’s decision affected her boss’ deal with Vidov.
Soyuzmultfilm, the biggest cartoon studio in the Soviet Union that was founded in 1936, was one of the victims of the break-up of the Soviet Union. It was scrapped during perestroika in 1989, but was resurrected as a leased enterprise created for 10 years that did not own, but had the right to dispose the property of Soyuzmultfilm.
In 1992 the head of the studio Stanislav Rozhkov, looking for a source of income, sold the rights to exhibit the films abroad for 10 years. In 1999 the leased enterprise was closed and the name passed to a state film studio.
The lawyers of the Unitary Enterprise are arguing that the leased enterprise had no right to make agreements regarding the rights because it held them on a temporary basis.
Films by Jove representatives were not present in court, although they were notified of the date and time of the hearings more than once. “They were notified 10 times that we will have a court hearing, but we did not hear a word from them,” Soyuzmultfilm’s lawyer Alexander Papenkov told Gzt.ru. “They do not want to come here and take part in the process.”
It was earlier reported that Vidov’s studio did not want to take part in such court hearings because the original contract was signed in California, USA and has nothing to do with Russian legislation.
“The arguments because of the contract are examined in the courts of the State of California, yes, but our argument is not about the contract, but about whether the leased enterprise had a right to strike this agreement at all, and this is established by a Russian court,” Papenkov said.