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Cambodia an open market for bootleggers

Cambodia an open market for bootleggers


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

copyright offenders.

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

Sovicheat said.

"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.

"The commercial

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.

The Boom

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 well

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



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