After failing to meet for four scheduled sessions, the National Assembly began work again Monday, passing the first chapter of a national law regulating copyrights.
The copyright law is the third concerning intellectual property rights the Assembly has tackled. Already passed are the laws that regulate trademarks and patents.
Laws on copyright, trademarks and patents represent “the core [intellectual property rights protection] laws,” said Sok Siphana, secretary of state for the Ministry of Commerce.
Intellectual property rights are a critical part of Cambodia’s September 2003 World Trade Organization bid.
“We have a good chance to be admitted into the WTO…at the fifth WTO Ministerial Meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in September,” Sok Siphana said.
Cambodia’s push to enter the world body comes as the expiration of an international trade agreement on garments and textiles draws to a close.
In 2004, the Multi-Fiber Agreement, which sets trade standards for garments and textiles, Cambodia’s key industry, will expire, putting those products under WTO regulations.
If Cambodia is not in the WTO by then, commerce officials say, the country will lose its competitive advantage against its neighbors.
Along with intellectual property rights legislation, the government will have to draft and pass numerous other laws, including legislation regulating insolvency, secure transactions, commercial arbitration, tourism, telecommunications, civil procedures and negotiables and payments, “among others,” Sok Siphana said.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, who heads the Assembly’s finance committee, said the copyright law needed to be passed because the current situation—marked by rampant VCD and CD piracy—is “out of control.”
Local producers of videos have complained in the past that such piracy has devastated the development of Cambodia’s film and karaoke industries. With the ready availability of pirated copies, producers say the return on the investment of a project is minimal. This keeps salaries low and artists poor, they say.
Prince Sisowath Panara Sirivudh, secretary of state for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said Monday the copyright law was an important part of curbing piracy.
“This law is contributing to the development in the circle of globalization,” he said.
With the approval of such a law, writers and others will have protection for their products, “and our culture will improve,” the prince said. “This can prevent the influx of foreign culture.”
The government has long claimed that increasing foreign programming on television is eroding Cambodian culture and recently demanded that stations broadcast 80 percent Cambodian-produced shows.
Mom Chim Huy, head of the Assembly’s cultural and fine arts committee, said Cambodian culture could only benefit from copyright protection.
“The law will allow us to improve our culture and absorb other cultures,” Mom Chim Huy said.
“The law is very good, but it is up to the executive branch to implement it,” Funcinpec lawmaker Keo Remy said. That, however, is not up to the legislature. “I hope the executive branch will implement it properly,” he said.