Piracy Puts Karaoke Video Business in Jeopardy

Karaoke production companies in Cambodia and the US say that if the Cambodian government doesn’t crack down on video pirates, legitimate companies will be forced out of business.

They say Phnom Penh alone has about 30 outfits that illegally copy video and compact disks, and then sell the pirate copies for much less than a legal copy.

“We have a law, but it is not enforced,” said Eng Chhay Nguon, director-general of the Hang Meas Video Co Ltd. He said his company has been forced to cut back production “as we make very little profit.

“After our disk comes out, a few hours later the copied disk ap­pears everywhere. Our efforts bring no result.”

Yvette Sam, chairwoman of Angkor Wat Productions, located in Long Beach in the US state of  California, said that eight years after she started her business, it is no longer worth her while to produce disks.

The pirates “should be punished in accordance with the law. [If piracy continues] we won’t survive and neither will other companies,” she said.

The wholesale price for authentic disks is $5 per unit, while the pirated copies go for as little as $1.50, she said. Disks can generally be found in local markets for between $2 and $3.

Eng Chhay Nguon said he has dropped his price per disk from $5 to $3 in an attempt to compete with the pirates. “But we make much less [profit], only 40 cents per disk,” he said.

The video producers say not only are they losing money, but they risk getting into trouble with authorities for work they have not sanctioned.

Yvette Sam, for example, said she was criticized in the Khmer-lang­uage press recent­ly for making a sexy karaoke video that hit the markets after Prime Minister Hun Sen denounced such material earlier this year.

But, she said, the offending video is a pirate version of kar­aoke shows she produced in 1996, well before the prime minister’s warning.

She said she has not produced such material since 1997 and was being unfairly accused of undermining Khmer culture.

The video in question was titled “Blooming Flower Hidden In the Leaves, Vol 18,” which features Cambodian girls wearing short grass skirts and bathing suits.

Two songs taken from that disk are being marketed on a “sexy songs” pirate video that Yvette Sam said she has nothing to do with.

The Khmer press also accused Mau Ayuth, TVK director, of directing what it called a “pornographic video.” While the video does depict scantily clad females, it does not show nudity or sex acts.

Mau Ayuth said that while he helped produce the original karaoke shows four years ago, he did not direct them. A copy of the original show credits Prom Messa as the director.

“The publisher should have investigated to see who directed this kara­oke,” he said. “I was surprised to hear this accusation. I did not do that.” He said he has worked hard to promote Khmer cul­ture, not to denigrate it.

Hang Soth, director of the department of art at the Ministry of Culture, said the ministry is committed to enforcing the law and eliminating piracy, but noted it will take some time to solve the problem.

Hun Sen signed a subdecree in September setting fines for those who illegally copy videos and disks, ranging from about $2 per disk up to more than $500 for each copy of a movie.

The issue of piracy was also discussed this week at the ministry’s two-day seminar on ways to en­courage local producers “to maintain and protect national culture, and respect social morality,” said Hang Soth.

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