The new intellectual property laws that went into effect this month received praise
from artists and authors, but doubts remained about how effectively the legislation
could be enforced.
"The new copyright laws are the first laws in Cambodian history to protect intellectual
property," said Sim Sarak, copyright director general of the Ministry of Culture
and Fine Arts (MCFA). "There has never been such laws, even during [King Norodom]
He admitted that copyright infringement remained widespread and no case had been
prosecuted in court. He called on artists and copyright holders to assert their legal
right to protect their works.
"The ministry implements the law, but there is a need for authors to guard their
own property," he said. "We need their cooperation to run the law. We cannot
do it alone."
Sam Sophearin, 23, an author and graduate from Royal University of Phnom Penh with
a degree in Khmer literature, said the laws promise to usher in a new creative period
in Cambodian history.
"Cambodian intellectual work is sure to progress," he said.
But he cautioned that the law could be abused if officials steal royalties that are
owed to artists. Sophearin said that protecting people's ownership of books has long
been a problem in Cambodia.
"The [authors] produce the work, but others make the profits," said Sophearin,
adding that the next generation was discouraged from developing its talents in writing.
But Chan Rithy, a famous local writer with best-sellers on Phnom Penh newsstands,
said it is better to have the laws than nothing at all.
"With these laws, at least the authors feel like having [something] to count
on," he said.
Ironically, one of his most popular books is entitled "How to Develop Yourself",
stressing health and thinking positively. It was translated from original English
The new copyright laws were approved by the King on March 5 after being passed by
the National Assembly earlier in the year. They went into effect on September 6.
A six-month grace period was provided for businesses to sell off stocks of illegally
copied intellectual material, said Sarak.
He said the laws will eventually permit authors to earn more income.
"It's a [copyright] system where one can always earn money through the generations,"
He said the regulations carry fines between 5 million ($1,250) and 25 million riel
$6,250) for copyright violations. In serious instances, perpetrators may face up
to a year in prison.
"This copyright law will do every author good," he said. The move is part
of the government's drive to enforce new WTO standards that will be phased in during
the next few years.
President of the Khmer Authors Association You Bo said he held out hope that the
laws would be enforced. He pointed to the fact that only fifty books of Khmer literature
have been written since 1993.
"I think these copyright laws will improve step by step," he said. "Our
authors will develop their smile step by step and we hope that our standard of living
will change step by step."
At the moment, Bo explained, authors can earn only a few thousand riel on their books.
It is also too expensive for copyright holders to bring their cases to court if they
need to pay millions of riel. He believed it might limit the effectiveness of the
law, but he said that was not his only concern.
"It's not just the problem of profit," Bo said. "We also feel hurt
seeing our work being photocopied and sold in the market without any permission from