A Sihanoukville court has ruled that American businessman Chuck Grider owns the copyright to the name "Serendipity", used for years to describe a stretch of Ocheteal Beach popular with tourists.
Presiding judge Tack Kimsia fined the owners of Unkle Bob's bar five million riel ($1,250) and nearby restaurant Buzz one million riel ($250) for illegally using the name "Serendipity Beach" to describe the location of their businesses.
Unkle Bob's and Buzz were also ordered to pay $15,000 and $5,000, respectively, in damages to copyright owner Charles "Chuck" Grider, 69, a resident in Sihanoukville for the past five years.
Grider originally lodged a lawsuit in criminal court in 2002 for $95,000 against four defendants. After it was moved to the municipal court, charges against the other two defendants were dismissed due to insufficient evidence.
Grider said he coined the term "Serendipity Beach" in 2000, and owned three bars and two beachside guesthouses, Serendipity One and Two. He convinced the Sihanoukville provincial government to adopt the name, and Serendipity Beach is now used on maps and in guidebooks to describe the thriving corner of shoreline.
But Grider said his March 4 court win will allow him to re-establish his business or prosecute others that use his copyright on anything from menus to T-shirts.
"If it continues to be Serendipity Beach, I have to be a part of it," said Grider. "And I will be, or it will die.
"It's a valuable franchise, and I will continue to promote the name and open a new business," he said. "Or I'll insist everybody stops using it and then take it somewhere else, maybe an island."
Neither Grider or the defendants attended the hearing, and the owner of Buzz, known locally as Bally, has already left Cambodia.
Grider admitted there was a personal element to the copyright dispute. Alin, his girlfriend at the time fell pregnant to Norwegian Erlin Osterhaud, who now owns Unkle Bob's. Grider said she left him and set up Unkle Bob's.
"They were in cahoots. She instigated the entire thing and he followed," Grider said. "They blocked the front door and threw rocks at my house ... unethically and illegally forcing me from my business."
Osterhaud, owner of Unkle Bob's since 2001, said the court case may have been motivated by a personal vendetta and maintained that there was no copyright on "Serendipity".
"Chuck did not register a company. He had a business license," Osterhaud said.
"The whole thing is a big joke. Does he now want to sue Lonely Planet, or public map companies who use the name?"
Osterhaud said he had the Norwegian Embassy and many expatriates in Sihanoukville behind him. If the verdict is enforced, he said he would appeal.
Though Grider felt he was victimized by his ex-girlfriend, he said he pursued the case for the name he created.
"I loved my business. The small amount of damages will pay for some of my expenses, but not my heartbreak."