Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Free to copy, but for how much longer?

Free to copy, but for how much longer?

Free to copy, but for how much longer?

Stacks and stacks of CDs: and tourists can't believe their luck.

VISIT any of more than a dozen CD stalls in Phnom Penh's Russian Market and the lack

of an effective copyright law is obvious.

Three dollars can get you the latest movie releases from either Hollywood or Bollywood.

There is no shortage of music either - albums from across the globe vie for space

with homegrown talent. And if its software you're after, they can help with that

too.

"There is no copyright law in Cambodia," says one stallholder, surrounded

by CDs of pirated music, games and software. "But I hear that could change in

three or maybe five years."

He is not quite right: there is a copyright law - a relic from UNTAC days - but it

has been scrupulously ignored for years. However, recent action by the government

shows that the situation could change in the near future.

Last month police arrested a man who had copied hundreds of CDs and VCDs; a few days

later they raided a local market for more of the same.

The country's trading partners - or rather, those countries that Cambodia would like

to trade freely with - find this apparent bout of enforcement encouraging, but they

want to see much more.

British Ambassador Stephen Bridges, says: "It is a good sign and we encourage

more of it. Protection of intellectual property in the region is a big problem, not

just in Cambodia. However, what we are looking for is enforcement as well as commitment

- if I am right the last case was not enforced."

It is not only economists and diplomats who want improvements: at a demonstration

outside the Ministry of Culture in early August, some of the country's leading actors,

musicians and producers called on the government to protect copyright on their material.

Eng Chhay Nguon, president of the Movie and Songs Association, which is an affiliation

of video and music producers, says that he has had enough of people pirating his

products.

"I am the producer," he explains. "When someone takes advantage of

my [original] product I feel very frustrated and don't want to produce more."

Chhay Nguon warns that the situation could lead to a decline in Khmer culture. Lack

of protection, he says, means that artists received no royalties, leaving them no

incentive to produce more original work.

"The government always encourages us to promote Khmer culture by producing VCDs

and CDs," he says. "But there is no enforcement of copyright law. Cambodian

film and song producers need the copyright law. If it exists, we will raise our film

and song production to a higher level."

The government needs to oblige. It is very keen to join the World Trade Organization

(WTO), a grouping of around 140 countries that abide by a system of trading rules.

One important part of membership is protection of intellectual property, until now

a weak point in Cambodia.

In response, Sim Sarak, director general of administration and finance at the Ministry

of Culture and Fine Arts, was tasked with drafting a new law.

The most important aspect of the draft law, says Sarak, is the provision of stringent

punishment for those guilty of breaching copyright. It would empower the courts to

hand down jail terms of up to three years, and fine offenders as much as $2,500.

It would also give creators of intellectual property the right to take action against

those who pirate their work.

"The law has not yet gone to the National Assembly," says Sarak, "but

it has been submitted to the Council of Ministers."

Sarak and his colleagues at the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) estimate the law should

be passed by November 2002.

Kek Ravy, undersecretary of state at the MoC, thinks it could happen sooner than

that.

And the artists are the losers.

"It should go through quickly," he says. "This legislation is just

technical - it is not political." As for upholding the law, Ravy says: "Cambodia

is a small market. I believe it will be very easy to implement and enforce the law."

Observers recognize that this is an important part of Cambodia's chances of attaining

WTO membership, albeit one of many.

"I would not want to overplay [copyright law] as a key issue," says Bridges.

"The key issue is customs reform. There are some major issues that need to be

addressed, but what is good is that the Cambodian government is committed to making

reforms. This legislation will help."

Back at the Russian Market the traders are doing brisk business. Tourists are their

main market, but the easy availability of local music proves that the country's citizens

are equally keen on pirated CDs.

One trader smiles when asked what he will do when the new law comes in.

"I don't know," he replies. "I will certainly have to do something

else, but that law is at least three years away. For now I am not worried."

Perhaps he should be: Ravy believes the copyright law could be passed before the

end of this year. If that happens, and if it is backed up by the new found willingness

to crack down on piracy, the traders at the Russian Market could find themselves

looking for other jobs sooner than they think.

"My family runs several stalls selling CDs," says another trader, "

but if the new law comes in quickly, we will have to sell T-shirts. Under the counter,

though, I am sure we will keep selling CDs."

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