Adjaranet and iMovies, two of the most popular streaming websites in Georgia, were shut down last week, soon after a local cinema chain announced a new legal streaming service.
Both streaming websites went offline on 23 August citing ‘maintenance’, with neither providing a statement or explanation for their termination.
Cavea, a local cinema chain, launched their own streaming service, Cavea+, a week prior, sparking debate on social media about their possible involvement in the closure of the websites.
The service, which is currently in beta testing, includes a limited catalogue, including content from Warner Bros and HBO which it has purportedly obtained the rights to. The service will cost ₾9 ($3) per month when it becomes fully available.
Cavea did not reply to OC Media’s request for comment.
On 24 August, the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) released a statement explaining that it had issued a warning to ‘illegal streaming sites’ a week prior, demanding they ‘legally upload’ their content. Though the Commission did not reveal the name of any streaming website commonly used in the country, it said that it had appealed to internet service providers to ‘eliminate’ them.
Giga Kobaladze, the head of the Copyright Association of Georgia, told OC Media that until now, various piracy sites have existed because there was no ‘other alternative’.
‘Now, based on the fact that not only foreign services, but also a Georgian alternative has appeared, I think that this accelerated and contributed to the decision [to stop access to pirated sites] was made more freely by the GNCC’.
‘It was a timely and correct decision, it should have been taken before. But they [GNCC] refrained because the consumer would be left without an alternative', said Kobaladze.
'A significant problem'
According to Kobaladze, the GNCC has been in negotiations with sites such as Adjaranet and iMovies in an effort to push them to legally obtain the rights to stream content.
Before going offline, the two sites hosted massive catalogues of content, including almost all new mainstream television shows and films.
‘There was a promise from their side that they would gradually move to these legal beginnings’, he said.
‘There is still a chance that these two websites will resume their work. Even now, they have the opportunity to obtain these rights and continue to work legally’, Kobaladze said.
Media piracy began receiving more attention in Georgia toward the end of 2019, when the Motion Picture Association, which represents five major US film studios, Sony, Paramount, Warner Bros., Universal, and Disney, as well as streaming service Netflix, expressed concern about the state of media piracy in Georgia.
‘Reducing piracy continues to be a key priority for us and enforcement is a necessary and important step to achieve this priority. In Georgia, services such as adjaranet.com and imovies.cc, which make available movies from the MPA member companies without their consent, present a significant problem’, the letter stated.
Kobaladze said that their open letter ‘compelled’ the GNCC to ‘pay special attention’ to pirate sites.
He also speculated that the closure of the popular streaming sites could be related to Georgia’s European Union aspirations.
‘One of the main requirements in the [EU–Georgia] association agreement is the protection of intellectual property, including copyright protection’, he explained. ‘Naturally, this is also a request of the European Union, and it is a big step forward in getting closer to them’.
Although piracy is prohibited in Georgia, the disappearance of iMovies and Adjaranet has prompted heated debates and discussions on social media for several days.
Davit Lataria, 34, told OC Media that he had been frequenting the sites for more than five years due to their accessibility and ease of use.
‘On Tuesday, I entered the Adjaranet website and did not find anything. I was in shock. I immediately checked iMovies and did not understand what was happening at all. Both sites were down. Then I heard that Cavea+ is entering the market', he recalled.
David said he understood the illegal nature of the sites, adding that Cavea should not monopolise the streaming market in Georgia.
‘I appreciated the work of Cavea+, their quality, but it should not happen that they are the only ones on the Georgian market and people have no other choice.’
Two days after the two sites shut down, a new site claiming to be Adjaranet appeared under a different domain. However, the streaming site denied on TikTok that the site was theirs.
‘Unfortunately, we are not coming back yet. I hope to see you soon. See you later!', a representative said.
Adjaranet declined to comment further on the shutdown or their future plans.