New committee aims to promote cooperation among government ministries to protect intellectual property rights and ensure compliance with WTO rules
Punters browse pirated CDs and DVDs at a street-side stand in Phnom Penh.
Cambodia joined the World Trade Organisation in 2004, becoming only the second Least Developed Country (LDC) to gain admittance after years of negotiations and the adoption of laws to cut corruption and achieve greater transparency.
DRAFT law on the establishment of a National Committee of Intellectual Property Management (NCIPM) was approved by the Council of Ministers last week as the government works to curb piracy in fulfilment of its WTO membership requirements.
The draft law aims to promote cooperation among ministries and the private sector, a council news release said, drawing a complicated and sometimes contradictory fight against piracy under one umbrella group.
"The NCIPM will consist of 13 concerned ministries chaired by the Commerce Ministry and vice chaired by the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy and the Culture and Fine Arts Ministry," Lao Reasey, deputy chief of the Commerce Ministry's Intellectual Property Rights Department's international cooperation and legal affairs bureau, told the Post on Sunday.
Trademarks, geographical indications and compulsory licensing all fall under the Commerce Ministry's jurisdiction, he said.
Copyrights and intellectual rights, however, come under the Culture Ministry, while the Industry Ministry is in charge of patents and utility models, making enforcement difficult.
"The role of the NCIPM is to study the relevant laws as Cambodia is a signatory of the WTO. We have to comply with the WTO and to compile new laws to enable Cambodia to enter international treaties or conventions on intellectual property," Lao Reasey said.
"Solid intellectual property rights are a part of attracting and building confidence among foreign investors in Cambodia," he added.
An intellectual property law was passed in 1999 controlling trademarks, patents and copyrights, but piracy remains rampant.
Pirated CDs, VCDs and software are commonplace, as well as cigarettes and high-end whiskey.
Lao Reasey agreed that piracy is a problem, but added that the situation has improved.
"It cannot be as strong as those of Japan or France because those countries have had such laws for hundreds of years, while Cambodia just introduced the laws in 1999," he said. "However, we have put our efforts into training, into disseminating information among law firms, small and medium enterprises, and university students, and we hope more and more people will understand intellectual property rights."
Sim Sarak, director general of administration in charge of the copyright office of the Culture Ministry, told the Post that since 1999, Cambodia has had only three intellectual property laws: trademarks, patents, and copyright and piracy laws.
"The NCIPM is very crucial to compiling further intellectual property laws to align Cambodia to WTO's laws," Sim Sarak said.
"So far, the laws have not been enforced ... but we hope when the NCIPM is formed, the laws will be strictly enforced," he said.
"[Piracy] has strongly discouraged artists from writing books or shooting movies because their works will be pirated," he said.
Opposition Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yim Sovan also questioned the government's willingness to enforce new legislation, saying: "Laws are useless if they're never enforced".
But others said it was too premature to fault the government's anti-piracy efforts.
"It is too early to put all the blame on the government, but we should allow time for enforcement to improve," said Pily Wong, general manager of Microsoft's office in Cambodia. "The NCIPM will be helpful in this respect."