When Cambodia joined the World Trade Organization in 2004, part of the package was a promise to apply the TRIPS Agreement, a strict program of international intellectual property laws.
On Friday, the Council of Ministers moved one step closer to that goal, approving plans for a national committee to manage intellectual property law in Cambodia.
“The committee is established to implement intellectual property law effectively,” Ministry of Commerce Undersecretary of State Mao Thora said.
The committee will also coordinate donations and training opportunities from abroad, he said, looking in particular for guidance from a country that has expertise in fighting intellectual property violations.
Sim Sarak, the Ministry of Culture’s General Director of Administration and Finance, said Monday that the new committee is aimed at gaining the confidence of the international community and proving that Cambodia is serious about intellectual property.
“With the new government, we will strengthen the law,” said Sim Sarak, who drafted Cambodia’s 2003 intellectual property law.
But despite the law, piracy continues to flourish in Cambodia.
“A lot of the police are not so well-trained with intellectual property rights,” said Pily Wong, chief representative and country manager of Microsoft in Cambodia.
“I think they have to start with the big companies. They have to set some examples,” he said.
But there is a silver lining to all the dirt-cheap bootlegged software freely available in Cambodia’s markets, Pily Wong said.
“I wouldn’t say it’s helping Microsoft, but it’s helping the country be in touch with information and communications technology,” he said.
Hong Lim, a knock-off DVD vendor in Phnom Penh’s Phsar Toul Tompoung market, said he is bracing himself for when the hammer falls.
“It’s not just CDs and DVDs—also clothes, watches,” he said. “If they really crack down on copies, everyone here will lose their jobs.”
“We’re afraid. We know it’s all pirated. But the foreigners want only copies, too,” he said, gesturing to a pair of tourist shoppers.
“I think the government knows that you can’t change all at one time,” Hong Lim said.
“I understand—law is law; rules are rules. But it’s a very big problem for a developing country like this, very dangerous. If a big country wants to develop a small country, there should be a solution, not just a big crackdown,” he added.
Whenever and however intellectual property enforcement comes to Cambodia, Hong Lim said he’ll adapt.
“Maybe I’ll become a banker,” he said.