Microsoft Cambodia has found that an overwhelming majority of computer retailers surveyed earlier this year failed to offer customers the option to purchase licensed, as opposed to pirated, software.
Out of the 54 Cambodian computer retailers included in the May survey, the results of which were released over the weekend, 96 per cent did not offer the licensed option.
As a result, Microsoft says that 90 to 95 per cent of computer users in Cambodia are using illegal software.
Though Microsoft dominates the market for operating systems in Cambodia, company representative Pily Wong says that “it is the entire system” that is suffering.
“Computer shops, they make very little margins on computers, and now they make zero margins on pirated software,” he said.
Wong said that larger profits for both retailers and distributors through the sale of licensed products would lead to greater job creation in Cambodia’s economy, which, according to Microsoft, loses $50 million a year through the sale of pirated software.
Citing Cambodia’s domestic copyright law, Microsoft warned that violators could face fines of one million to 20 million riel ($250 to $5,000) and one to five years' imprisonment. But it is more likely that they will face none of the above, at least for now.
“We really want to fully protect the law on property rights, but so far a lack of resources is the major challenge to enforce the law,” said Var Roth San, director of the intellectual property department at the Ministry of Commerce.
Roth San said his department alone would require 16 more staff members for which no existing budget can pay.
But as long as software counterfeiters continue to infringe copyright, innovation will be limited, Roth San said, and Cambodia’s image will suffer.
While Cambodia’s copyright laws remain intact, international pressure to enforce them eased in June when the World Trade Organisation agreed to extend a waiver that frees least developed countries (LDCs), Cambodia included, from cracking down for another eight years. Commonly protected products include books, music, film and software.
The WTO move, proponents of the extension say, allows LDCs the continued opportunity to access technology that may otherwise be unaffordable through the protection of intellectual property laws.
Having met with the government, Wong, at Microsoft, said there may be another avenue for protecting pirated software.
Wong says Cambodia’s trademark laws, which protect brand logos, could be used to prosecute those buying and selling pirated software, as the trademark is clearly displayed on both the packaging and when the software is being used.