A Prague court is hearing the case of two men accused of stealing a copy of renowned Slovak director Jakub Jakubisko's Bathory, Central Europe's most expensive home-grown film to date, in the third piracy prosecution by Czech authorities in a month.
In what seems to be an inside job, the men, who both worked in an area near where Bathory was being filmed at Prague's Barrandov Studios, are charged with stealing a working copy of the €10 million film from an editing room and then blackmailing Jakubisko's wife, who produces the director's films. Deana Jakubisková-Horváthová called police after one of the men telephoned her in March and threatened to post the film on the Internet unless she paid half a million crowns (€18,000), according to authorities. Police set up a "sting" operation and arrested the man when he arrived to collect the money, then picked up his accomplice and recovered the discs. One of the suspects pleaded guilty to the charges against him, authorities said. The other contends he found the film in a garbage can. Bathory is a Czech-Slovak-Hungarian-U.K. co-production based on the life of the 17th century Hungarian countess Elizabeth Bathory, who was reputed to have murdered dozens of young women and bathed in their blood to preserve her youth. Jakubisko Film (www.jakubiskofilm.com), Mrs. Jakubisková's production company, is claiming compensation is nearly €200,000 from the two men, whom she said would have ruined her if they had been successful. "As a producer, I must protect film investments from abroad," she told the Prague daily Mlada fronta dnes. "The losses would reach tens or hundreds of millions of crowns." Czech authorities have clamped down recently on film piracy, prosecuting two other high-profile cases. Last month, a 19-year-old Czech student was charged with illegally copying The Simpsons Movie hours after its Czech premiere - and a day before its U.S. release - and posting it on the Internet. And on Sept. 15 a man was arrested on charges of pirating director Jan Svĕrák's popular comedy Empties. But Czech media professionals say illegal piracy is hard to combat, particularly the downloading of films from hard discs on networked computers, because such activity is hard to trace in the Czech Republic. Piracy isn't the only problem plaguing Bathory. Its release, originally scheduled for September and then October, has been postponed until Jan. 17 because of problems during post-production sound editing, which was done in a London studio.