Intellectual property rights (IPR) laws introduced as required for Cambodia's
accession to the WTO in 2004 are proving only good in theory, as an open black
market for pirated goods in Phnom Penh flouts the new laws that threaten
Enforcement of intellectual property rights law often takes a back seat to other more acute law enforcement demands. "The police come by occasionally and ask for enough money to buy beer," said Sokputpun Reay, a CD vendor.
In fact, music and movie consumers will be hard
pressed to find legitimate royalty-paid copies of their favorite singer or film
among the many stores selling only bootleg optical goods such as CDs and DVDs.
"People in Cambodia think intellectual property theft isn't a real
crime. They think of people robbing other people as a crime. The public have to
be made to realize that this is theft as it hurts the big entertainment
companies greatly," said Bretton Sciaroni, partner, Sciaroni &
The Sisowath Quay store Magnetfield, sells an average of 200
fake CDs a day. Smuggled in from China, their illegitimacy is given away by a
handcrafted wooden case and an extra CD of the artist's previous release or even
songs from different singers. At a cost of $3, they are relatively more
expensive than the cutthroat prices of local marketplaces such as the Russian
"These are the best copies, very good quality," said Prek
Sotheary, storekeeper. She added that "real" CDs are too expensive and consumers
prefer to pay for low-cost pirated copies.
Sciaroni sees the demand for
bootleg music and movies continuing even if product quality varied.
know you're buying a fake CD at three dollars a pop, so your expectations are
low. If it's bad quality, you throw it away and assume the next one you buy will
be okay," he said. "It's different for full-priced fake products like cigarettes
and alcohol because you're expecting the real thing. It hurts the brand's
reputation for high quality and people will switch to another
Violators of local IPR law can receive a fine of up to $6,250,
a maximum jail term of 12 months and a bill for compensation to the copyright
owner. Penalties double for repeat offenders.
Chea Sovicheat, deputy
director of Intellectual Property Department of Ministry of Commerce, said these
penalties are enough to deter people from re-offending.
"It is different
than criminal law, we enact the IPR law to prevent infringements from happening
again in the future," he said. "One year [of jail] is enough as a deterrent,
because you have to pay a fine as well as damages."
Real World CD/DVD
Store shopkeeper Sokputpun Reay said local law enforcement does not deter
merchants from selling illegal copies.
"The police come by occasionally
and ask for enough money to buy beer. I give them maybe $10 to buy a case of
beer. It is not so much money and they do not come very often, only every few
months," he said.
Despite open display and sale of the latest copied
movies and music in the store, wholesale purchases of goods Reay claimed were
from Malaysia, are more covert.
Averaging sales of 50 DVDs a day, Reay
said he only sees the courier delivering the discs and packaging to be assembled
and separately contacts a middleman to place his orders.
"When I need to
order more stock I send an SMS to my supplier. From a list of DVDs we use the
code number to order more, then a courier will bring them to the shop," he said.
"Malaysians supply many of the stores around here and in the markets
In March, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) sent two
dogs trained to detect chemicals used in optical discs to work in Malaysia and
its border crossings. The labrador retrievers are unable to distinguish between
legitimate and pirated discs and have so far led law enforcement to three
seizures of up to one million pirated discs in just weeks.
importation of pirated goods may be due to difficulties Cambodian customs
officials have in identifying fake and authentic goods said
"Due to limited knowledge and experience of our customs
officials they may find it hard to make a distinction between a counterfeit and
genuine product," he said.
The copyright owner also bears responsibility
"The copyright owner must help us to protect their own
rights. We have to rely on the advice of the copyright owner," said
The MPAA estimated a $1,200,000,000 loss in potential revenue
from movies in the Asia Pacific region for 2005. Global estimated loss was
reported at $6,100,000,000 for the same year.
"The big companies will
suffer and lobby the government, so then it becomes a government-to-government
issue. Washington has been lobbying Beijing for ages about their illegal
production," said Sciaroni.
On April 10 the US requested World Trade
Organisation (WTO) dispute settlement consultations with China against its
copyright infringements. The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) placed
China at the top of the Priority Watch List in its 2007 report.
reported that Chinese enforcement efforts are hampered by poor coordination
among government ministries, corruption, lack of training and non-transparent
processes. Also, small retail shops continued to be major outlets for optical
contraband and roaming vendors offering pirated discs remained visible in major
US Embassy Press Officer, Jeff Daigle, said illegal optical
products are definitely distributed and transited through Cambodia and that
local law enforcement "have a limited capacity," to stop it.
Cambodia is not listed on the USTR watch list which is compiled from their
annual review of the global state of IPR protection and
"It's certainly not something we're ignoring, but there are
there more pressing issues that we are focusing our energy on right now," said
Sovicheat said a commercial court specifically to handle cases of
IPR infringement is expected to be adopted by next year.
cases will be handled separately from the civil court so that the speed of
settling the cases is faster," he said.
Experts say with the rise of new
technologies such as cellular phones, palm devices and flash drives easing the
digital transfer of music and movie files, more types of controls will be needed
to enforce technologically advanced copyright infringements.
Boom Room, a retail music outlet for digital file uploads, boasts in their music
catalogue to be the first shop in Southeast Asia offering an uploading service
for copies of digital files to portable players such as ipods.
as claiming to source many of the CDs in their 8,000-album collection direct
from the UK, they attribute the success of their expanding business to the
lenient government law enforcement of reproduction.
The January 2007 Boom
Boom Room catalogue concludes, "and lastly, [thank you] to the Cambodian
government who have remained tolerant about letting us sell our music in