For Georgia’s 3.7 million citizens, the European mainland lies just over the Black Sea. For the determined, EU membership is also visible on the western horizon; those who look to the north see little except Russia.
The European Union’s preparations to welcome Georgia into the bloc are both meticulous and extraordinarily complicated. Several dedicated websites detail various aspects of vision and planning, yet barely manage to scratch the surface of the challenges ahead.
These include the monumental task of managing the withdrawal symptoms of a nation almost totally reliant on pirated media for their daily entertainment fix.
Pressure From Both the United States and EU
Among hundreds of other conditions and caveats spanning almost every aspect of life in Georgia, EU membership and a headline piracy rate of 90%+ complement each other like oil and water. Something will have to give and for the United States, that day can’t arrive soon enough.
In a 2019 letter sent from the other side of the Atlantic, the Motion Picture Association politely suggested that Georgia needed to take piracy a little more seriously. Two of the country’s largest pirate sites, Adjaranet.com and iMovies.cc, were called out by name as particularly problematic.
It would take another three years but in August 2022, seemingly out of nowhere, local media began reporting the sudden demise of both sites. With Adjaranet and iMovies simultaneously offline “due to maintenance” the finger of blame quickly pointed towards the European Union.
On August 24, 2022, Georgia’s Communications Commission (ComCom) suggested that warnings from the United States were the driving force behind recent events.
“The Motion Picture Association of America, whose members include Disney, Warner Brothers, Universal Pictures, Sony, Paramount Pictures and Netflix, expressed concerns about Georgian sites hosting pirated movies and warned that failure to eliminate the problem could lead to sanctions against the country, which would include delays or complete cancellation of world premieres of movies and TV shows in Georgia,” ComCom announced.
“The American film studios expressed their hope that the Communications Commission would soon help clear the Georgian online space from pirated movies and TV shows,” the Commission added.
Two Years of Negotiations With Pirates
Whether Hollywood envisioned Georgia’s somewhat unorthodox response to its warnings is unclear. In its August 2022 announcement, ComCom revealed that for more than two years, in the wake of the MPA’s letter, it had been “intensively communicating” with websites offering pirated audiovisual content.
The owners of those sites were given precisely two years to bring content displayed on their platforms “in line with legislation” and when some failed to respond, ComCom says it reminded their hosting providers of their obligations.
After blame fell on the EU and then Hollywood following ComCom’s announcement, another potential culprit entered the frame, one much closer to home. Just a week before the shutdowns, local cinema chain Cavea launched Cavea Plus, Georgia’s first and only legal streaming service. Its initially limited catalog reportedly included content supplied by Warner and HBO.
Streaming Pioneer, Hollywood Partner
The pioneering launch of Cavea Plus was an incredibly brave move in a piracy-saturated market, something acknowledged by Cavea Plus manager Salome Kuprashvili in the weeks leading up to the launch. The “harsh reality” in Georgia, Kuprashvili said, is that piracy accounts for “100% of the market.” With the benefit of hindsight, her follow-on comment takes on new light.
“We cannot solve this problem with our own resources, but we are in active cooperation with international as well as local governmental and non-governmental organizations,” Kuprashvili added.
Three months after the launch of Cavea Plus, the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment welcomed its latest member, the 42nd to date.
“Cavea Plus shares ACE’s deep understanding that piracy poses a direct threat to the media and entertainment industry, and we are pleased to welcome them to our global network,” said Charles Rivkin, Chairman and CEO of the MPA and chairman of ACE.
The announcement also revealed that ACE and Cavea had a “long history” of working together to fight piracy in Georgia. Adjaranet.com and iMovies.cc weren’t mentioned by name but ACE did refer to one in the past tense; “The biggest piracy site drew about 11 million monthly visits,” ACE noted.
Adjaranet.com and iMovies.cc Get Officially Shut Down
In an announcement Wednesday, ACE said that after working closely with Georgia’s Ministry of Finance, the two largest illegal streaming sites in the country have now been shut down.
“Over the past two years, adjaranet.com has amassed 140 million visits. During the same period, imovies.cc has attracted nearly 64 million visits,” ACE revealed.
Jan van Voorn, head of ACE and the MPA’s Global Content Protection Chief, thanked Georgian authorities and acknowledged the assistance of one of its own members.
“ACE appreciates the hard work of the Georgian Ministry of Finance and the Anti-Piracy Center of Georgia in the successful closure of these two criminal operations that undermine jobs and growth throughout the Georgian creative sector. Our partnership with Cavea Plus, a key member of ACE in the Caucasus region, has helped ensure a coordinated approach to protecting copyright.”
More Work Needed to Beat Georgia’s Pirates
Within two days of Adjaranet.com’s claimed shutdown in 2022, a similar site with similar domain had already appeared to take up the slack, at least until Adjaranet.com apparently came back from the dead.
With around 6.7 million visits per month, Adjaranet.to does a fairly convincing impression of Adjaranet.com, as it appeared in the weeks before its initial disappearance last year. Others, including Adjaranet.bet, and several iMovies.cc clones receive less traffic, but even 180k visits per month is significant in a country of less than four million.
The “harsh reality” mentioned by Cavea Plus manager Salome Kuprashvili may have been eased by the double shutdowns of Adjaranet and iMovies but in more general terms, the overall picture in Georgia can only be truly appreciated after viewing the list of most-visited entertainment websites.
Such a list is available from Semrush and it reveals a market almost completely dominated by pirate sites, with only a few notable legal outliers.
That’s not only terrible for development of a domestic market crying out for local movies and TV shows, but also a potentially significant roadblock to EU membership.