A handful of stores in Phnom Penh’s City Mall closed up shop yesterday morning, draping large curtains over their storefronts rather than face an impending police raid on businesses allegedly selling pirated movies there, police and other vendors said.
The aborted raid came less than two weeks after Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a directive ordering the formation of an inter-ministerial committee – to be led by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts – to curb the distribution of illegal pornography and unlicensed copies of movies, according to a copy of the directive obtained yesterday.
A police official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that yesterday’s raid was called off “because we saw the owners had closed the shop”.
“We will continue [the crackdown] when the owners open,” he added.
A cosmetics vendor who asked to be identified only as Chanda, and whose shop is on the same floor as the alleged bootleg DVD sellers, said that rumours of the police crackdown circulated yesterday morning in City Mall.
“Every day they open as usual, but this morning there are six big shops at City Mall that are closed,” she said. “I heard from other sellers that this morning the police would crack down on CD and VCD shops. That’s why I think that maybe they seemed to know beforehand that there would be police coming to crack down on them.”
Nareth Ung, president of the Motion Picture Association of Cambodia – a trade body representing licensed movie distributors Westec and Sabay – said he filed the complaint against the six City Mall vendors not simply because they were selling bootlegged DVDs, but also because they were also allegedly distributors of pirated copies to other vendors.
A DVD store just one floor down from the curtained-off vendors was conducting business as usual yesterday.
“That guy is small,” Ung said. “Yeah, eventually he’ll have to be notified, but I don’t want to touch the small guys, just the big guys.”
According to Ung, closing down copyright violators isn’t just about making money on licensed DVD sales, but also about creating jobs by attracting film productions.
“And not just the foreigners, but the Cambodians too. If they can’t make any money, they’re going to stop producing movies in Cambodia,” he said, going on to acknowledge that licensed DVDs would cost vendors more, but bring higher profit margins.
A DVD vendor in Phnom Penh’s Boeung Keng Kang I commune who said he sold both bootlegs and originals maintained yesterday that the bootlegs “sell very well”, but added that it might not be the case for long.
“I heard recently that the government and Hun Sen are taking care of this case, so I don’t show the copies in the store,” he said. “I only sell them in secret.”