A woman (L) wears a Loy9 T-shirt in Phnom Penh earlier this week. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post
Cambodian entrepreneurs are known for their swift recognition of a saleable intellectual property and equally as quick to exploit it, as is the case with many goods to be found around the Kingdom decorated with the now ubiquitously enraged fowls known as Angry Birds.
Loy9, the hit Cambodian TV and radio programs from BBC Media Action, is the latest property to be pirated in the Kingdom. T-shirts, sandals, coffee mugs and even birthday cakes are being burnished with their logo, all without BBC Media Action having created any merchandise for the show to imitate.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the show’s creator, Colin Spurway, project director for BBC Media Action, is bemused by the reception of the program but isn’t without some concern.
In an email, Spurway said: “BBC Media Action has not authorised the Loy9 products that are for sale around the country, and the makers never approached us for permission. But we are very pleased that young people in Cambodia are so enthusiastic to be seen wearing (or eating!) the Loy9 logo.”
The comparison to Rovio’s Angry Birds is an apt one, given the range of goods available with Loy9’s logo, and one that Spurway makes himself.
“It’s pretty extraordinary even to us that a project doing such serious work has at the same time managed to be so attractive to its youth audience that it has become a serious challenger to Angry Birds for pole position on the nation’s T-shirt charts. Surely there could be no greater accolade for a civic education project than to say it’s almost as popular as Angry Birds!”
As it stands BBC Media Action has yet to seek any action with regards to the trademark piracy, something that Phillip Butler, managing director of Opus Cambodia, advises they do.
“Assuming that the name is a legally registered trademark in Cambodia, it might be worthwhile to pursue legal action should they be able to identify who is producing the shirts – assuming Loy9 believe the shirts to be damaging to their message or ability to raise merchandise revenue through their own efforts,” he said yesterday.
Legal action is not something that Rovio always pursues, preferring to work where possible with those companies who are producing the pirated products, as the Guardian reported earlier this year.
Butler believes that for a property like Loy9, Rovio’s approach may be applicable.
“Maybe Rovio’s example of engaging some of the producers would be a good step. It could help avoid additional negative effects on the brand should any action fail, and avoid potentially costly legal action, but only so long as what’s being produced doesn’t adversely affect the Loy9 brand, image and message," he said.
"They may be able to negotiate some level of control over the way in which their property is presented and even a share in revenue. This approach would only really be worthwhile if there is a large amount of revenue being generated by the unofficial goods or that these goods or entities are getting a lot of exposure.”
In the end, BBC Media Action has to weigh their options and work out the best strategy for them and their property, said Butler.
“If I were to advise them, I would suggest that they seek professional legal advice with a view to assessing the potential damage of these copyright infringements, and compare that damage to the cost and risks versus potential benefits of pursuing legal action before deciding on which route to take. Alternatively, the Loy9 program owners should consider producing official merchandise. Considering they have the ability to advertise official products from official outlets via multiple media channels they may be able to outsell the unofficial producers of merchandise.”
One young woman who was found sporting one of the stylish T-shirts in Phnom Penh, Leng Len said she wore it because she thinks its nice and the logo is cool.
She was also a fan of the TV show, which she said “is great because it helps the youth a lot”. She added: “It helps them become interested in society and gain a lot of knowledge.”
Loy9 is gearing up for the production of its second season and has no plans to release any merchandise at this time.
Finland’s Rovio could not be reached for a comment.
To contact the reporter on this story: Gregory Pellechi at [email protected]