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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Movie industry facing ruin as crisis adds to piracy threat

Movie industry facing ruin as crisis adds to piracy threat

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Producers and directors of media companies lament failure to tackle piracy with many filmmakers saying they now face oblivion in face of downturn.

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Pirated DVDs are among the main problems in the movie industry, which has found itself close to collapse following the economic slowdown.    

CAMBODIA'S struggling movie and music industry faces collapse as the economic slowdown adds to problems of rampant piracy, local producers told the Post Tuesday.

One of the country's leading media companies, Chlang Den Production, said business is being suspended after trying for years to compete in a country with lax copyright laws.

"We are dead ... almost all of the companies are dead because we cannot compete with fake products," said director Kim Leng.

He said his company had paid large sums to the police and the courts to crack down on piracy, but that the problem had only gotten worse.

Hundreds of DVD and CD pressing machines are at work in the country illegally copying movies and music, making survival nearly impossible, he said.

"If you look at theatres in Phnom Penh, they have already closed. Cambodian people have killed this industry," he said, adding that original DVDs cost about US$4, but that copied products sell for only 1,500 riels ($0.40).

Lax law enforcement and abundant high-quality copies almost indistinguishable from authentic goods have led to a thriving local trade in everything pirated, from movies and music to pharmaceuticals and liquor.

The US government has repeatedly raised the issue of piracy with Cambodian authorities, and the US-based Intellectual Property Alliance says about 100 percent of local music and movie sales are illegal. The IPA is funded largely by the recording and movie industry and is not considered independent.

Government response

Kim Leng called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to assist CD, VCD and DVD producers to help authors, singers, actors, actresses and other industry professionals find work in other sectors.

Commerce Ministry Secretary of State Mao Thora suggested an inter-ministerial committee lead by Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh to protect the industry from collapse.

"The department of intellectual property has been training people in copyright laws, but more needs to be done," he said. He urged ministry officials to enforce the law and encouraged producers to file lawsuits to compensate for lost profits. "We need to be strong willed to stop this problem," he said. "Those who violate copyright laws should be jailed," said Mao Thora.

Economist Kang Chandararot said poor enforcement of intellectual property laws is a key obstacle to Cambodia's economic growth.

"Whenever new products or ideas are available to steal freely, people won't be able to develop new ideas or create new products," said Kang Chandararot. "We are waiting for legal reform, but it now is just the beginning."

Ly Bun Yim, a filmmaker and owner of Flash Diamond Movie Production, said that local media companies should focus on foreign markets where intellectual property laws are stronger.

"If we want Cambodian movies and karaoke to stay alive, we need to make high-quality products," he said.

His company recently finished the $500,000 movie Divinity Court, which he expected to earn $1 million. "I would like to see the government encouraging us," said Ly Bun Yim.

Further challenges

But Matthew Robinson, the managing director of local movie production company Khmer Mekong Films (KMF), said that piracy is not the biggest challenge facing the industry, and that the economic downturn and a lack of high-quality venues have been far greater obstacles.

"The problem is not so much piracy, although [production companies] will claim that. Why should people pay to go to an uncomfortable cinema when they can go to the market and buy a [foreign-made] pirated movie for cheaper?" he said, adding that KMF had successfully fended off piracy through tight security measures.

"When we made our first movie, we were careful to guard all of the copies and make sure they weren't showing up at the markets. I haven't seen any problems [with piracy], but you have to be careful," he said. 

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