Pirated Video Crackdown Worries Vendors

As the government moves to rein in rampant video piracy, vendors who sell the illegal copies say they can’t see how they will make a living if the new law is enforced.

Officials say they’d better figure it out quick, because the free ride is all but over.

In September, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a subdecree setting stiff fines—up to $500—for those who illegally copy videos and discs, as well as those who sell pirated copies.

Word of the new law is spreading through local markets, and vendors say they are unhappy. None of those interviewed were willing to be identified.

“The [business climate] right now is very tough,” said a woman who sells illegal copies at a stall in the Olympic Market. “If they are so strict with the new law, all we can do is abandon our business.”

Vendors say virtually everyone sells the illegal copies, because customers demand them. Legal copies can cost from $5 up to $40 for rare or new foreign movies. Pirates go for between $2 and $3.

“In Cambodia, we don’t care whether it’s an original or a copy,” said another vendor. “Cus­tomers look for the cheap ones.”

But Hang Soth, director of the department of art at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said producers and vendors have made an easy living for 20 years off the work of others, and that they will no longer be able to do so.

“The law will be carried out,” Hang Soth said. “We are not joking.” It’s a matter, he said, “of the restoration of the national soul and the national identity.”

Cambodian culture has suffered in recent years, he said, because artists have little incentive to create original work, knowing it will quickly be copied and they won’t earn any money from their labors.

“The law has been passed to increase the number of [Cam­bodian] authors, producers and singers, not those who steal the achievements of others,” he said.

The threatened crackdown can be seen as the opening skirmish in a big-money battle that has been raging for years between developed nations and the developing world.

In the West, such “intellectual property” as movies, music, videos, computer games and software is a multi-billion-dollar industry that is zealously protected.

But as copying technology has become more readily available, mini-industries for reproducing books, tapes and discs without paying royalties or licensing fees have emerged in developing countries.

Large, powerful lobbying organizations like the US-based Mo­tion Picture Association or the Business Software Alliance track such activities around the world, taking legal action against nations that produce pirates for export.

Cambodia has so far been spared, because it does not produce pirates for export and its domestic market is tiny compared to, say, China. But at some point, analysts say, it could face legal and economic sanctions.

“They won’t let this go on forever,” said one analyst. Cambodia “will have to clean up its act some day.”

Vendors say it is true they sell pirate copies from China, Thai­land, and Vietnam and Cam­bodia, but they say they are unfairly caught in the middle.

“They should prosecute the copiers, not the sellers,” one said.

Another asked what she is supposed to do with the copies she already has in stock. “I’m not sure what to do,” she said. “I’m very much concerned.”


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