The much anticipated, and often delayed, government crackdown on pirated VCDs and DVDs, has begun, with sellers of pirated films going to great lengths to hide or sell their stock of illegal wares. US expatriate Tim Keller said that when police raided Phsar Tuol Tumpong Friday, “vendors would suddenly throw you out of the stores, pull down their steel gates and pretend to be shoppers in the market.”
“It was frantic,” Keller said. “I was literally racing to buy movies before the cops came around the next corner.”
The crackdown started June 4, according to Ministry of Culture officials. At Phsar Tuol Tumpong Sunday, most vendors had removed DVDs and VCDs from view, but had them stashed underneath their counters, or put on display only the empty cases that normally hold the discs.
“If customers want something, they show me the case, and I go and get it from my house,” said one vendor. He said police have threatened a 7,500 riel (about $1.88) fine for every illegal movie found in his shop.
“People say the crackdown has something to do with the [World Trade Organization],” he said.
One of the requirements for Cambodia to join the WTO is to enforce intellectual property laws that meet international standards. Government officials have said they want to join the WTO by the end of the year.
The crackdown was originally scheduled for April 1, but was subsequently pushed back to May 1.
That deadline also came and went without government action against vendors.
“In Phnom Penh, we have already implemented the order for three districts already, and we may crack down in the other four tomorrow,” Ministry of Culture official Sok Sokunthy said Sunday.
Sok Sokunthy said raids had taken place in Tuol Kok, Chamkar Mon and Russei Keo districts. He said vendors were fined in those three districts, and that illegal VCDs and DVDs were confiscated.
At least one Phsar Tuol Tumpong vendor said police came to the market last week.
“They did not confiscate anything,” he said. “If they come back, I will hide the DVDs and I will not let them find them.”
Other vendors said police did not visit them, but they removed their VCDs and DVDs from sight after they heard rumors of a crackdown.
Authorities also visited CD World in Prampi Makara district, said Chay Sila, manager and owner of the store. He said he was charged the 7,500 riel fine per illegal disc, adding that he had thousands of the discs in stock.
“They have the right to control the copyright, and someday they will close us down,” he said. “But we still sell. If we did not sell every day, [our business] would die.”