New Association to Take on Illegal DVD Sales

The Motion Picture As­sociation of Cambodia (MPAC), an independent body that aims to protect intellectual property, officially opened its doors Wednesday, vowing to put an end to the sale of pirated DVDs in Phnom Penh as its first order of business.

“We are going…to serve everybody a notice, all the vendors, to get rid of that stuff [pirated DVDs],” said MPAC president Ung Nareth on the sidelines of the association’s inaugural event at NagaWorld casino Wednesday afternoon, which included speakers from the Ministry of Culture, the Washington-based Motion Picture Association (MPA) and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Shrugging off the logistics of a city-wide DVD purge, Mr. Nareth said that that vendors who do not remove illegal DVDs from their shops will be fined $7,500 per disc.

“I’ll give them five or six months or so before we start to confiscate and penalize them,” he said.

The association currently has 12 paying members, including local film distributors Westec Media Limited and Sabay MVP, the Legend and Platinum Cineplex theaters, and major DVD-retailer CD World, according to Mr. Nareth.

A self-proclaimed antipiracy crusader, Mr. Nareth created the MPAC after illegally reproduced DVDs of “Age of the Hobbits”—a low-budget Hollywood “mockbuster” shot in Kampot province —hit local shops prior to its release in Cambodian theaters in January.

Previous attempts to stem the production and sale of pirated DVDs and CDs, including a coordinated police raid on vendors inside the popular Russian market organized by Mr. Nareth, have been unsuccessful.

“What I did in [Russian market] was just an experiment…. It didn’t really solve anything,” Mr. Nareth said, explaining that while police confiscated hundreds of illegal DVDs, there was nothing to stop the vendors from acquiring more.

Michael Chai, CEO of Westec, acknowledged that while replacing illegal DVDs with legitimate copies will drive up prices for both vendors and buyers, the benefits of doing so would outweigh the drawbacks.

“With proper distribution channels, proper licensing…you don’t have to worry about being raided, you don’t have to worry about poor-quality products, it’s a proper business,” Mr. Chai said.

Westec is a licensed distributor of films from Hollywood’s “big six” studios: Walt Disney, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, Uni­versal Studios and Sony.

Mr. Chai said that while most pirated DVDs are sold for about $1, legal copies would likely cost between $3 and $5. “It’s the price of two Lucky Burgers…so it’s about how I want to spend my money, how I want to spend my disposable income.”

But South Chheang Leng, manager of MPAC member CD World, said that while he was willing to replace the store’s inventory of pirated DVDs with licensed versions, he worried the decision would drive away customers.

“I’m afraid that the cost…[will be too high] and the Cambodian people cannot accept it, so in that way, there [will] still be piracy,” he said.

Speaking at the inauguration Wednesday, Mike Ellis, managing director of the MPA Asia Pacific, said that a recent tour of Cambodia’s DVD shops revealed how much work lay ahead for the new association.

“I did take a look at the pirated films and it wasn’t just American films, it was Thai films, Cam­bodian films—it was every film un­der the sun,” he said.

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