Shops Unfazed By Annual Bootleg DVD Crush

The Ministry of Culture steamrolled 300,000 bootlegged DVDs Monday in its annual celebration of efforts to stamp out piracy.

But at DVD shops across Phnom Penh, where pirated movies are sold for $1.50 or less, owners said they see little threat to their businesses.

“It’s simple,” said Sok Punreay, who runs a bootleg DVD shop on the riverside. “If officials from the ministry come to take a bribe, we give it to prevent them from raiding our place.”

Chim Malai, who sells CDs and DVDs at Central Market, said an official from the Ministry of Culture visited her Tuesday morning to deliver a written warning to stop selling bootleg movies.

“I will still sell all my stuff here,” she said. “I won’t buy the originals, because it’s too expensive.”

Although Ms. Malai said she has never personally paid a bribe to keep her shop stocked, she knows what she would do if faced with the threat of having her inventory seized.

“If the officials from the Ministry of Culture come to ask for bribes, we will give it to them,” she said.

Kong Kantara, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Culture, said more than 50 DVD shops were raided in Phnom Penh over the past six months—the source of the hundreds of thousands of discs destroyed on Monday—but he declined to identify them.

Khim Sarith, a secretary of state at the ministry, admitted that efforts to curb the sale of bootlegged movies were being stifled by corruption within the Committee to Suppress the Infringement of Copyright of Motion Pictures and Videos, the agency tasked with enforcing copyright laws.

“Officials with the pirated suppression committee report all the time that they will decrease bootleg sales,” he said. “It’s difficult to decrease because when they go to crack down they take some bribes from those people.”

Cambodia passed its first copyright and patent law in 2003, a prerequisite to join the World Trade Organization. Yet in the past decade, little progress has been made in enforcing intellectual property rights.

Speaking at a conference on intellectual property in March, Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol said that the failure to tackle the rampant sale of pirated music and movies was preventing increased investment in the entertainment sector.

But for Sok Pheak, who opened a DVD shop on the riverside two years ago, selling authentic copies of movies just isn’t an option.

“It’s hard to even sell movies for $1.50,” said Mr. Pheak. “In Cambodia, if prices are the same as Europe, nobody will buy the movies.”

However, Ung Nareth, president of the Motion Picture Association of Cambodia, an independent body created last November to lobby for the protection of intellectual property rights, said shopkeepers must get ready to change the way they do business.

“It’s slowing down, but it cannot be done overnight,” said Mr. Nareth. “People have been selling bootleg versions for years. It’s going to be an adjustment.”

Mr. Nareth, whose association includes a number of the country’s biggest film distributors and movie theaters, said a major deal to import original movies is in the works.

Once the movies arrive, Mr. Nareth said members of his association, including 35 DVD shops, will swap out their bootlegs for the originals.

“They’re waiting to change,” he said. “They’re going to have to change. We cannot let them continue just because they are afraid of change.”

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