The postponement of two US internet piracy bills last week was met with relief by human rights and media experts in Cambodia, who say the overreaching grasp of the proposed legislation would hinder the internet’s progress and growth in the Kingdom.
The US House of Representative’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) had aimed to require that internet providers block access to websites accused of piracy and would criminalise the unlawful streaming of copyrighted material by domestic or foreign websites.
Mike Gaertner, chief operating officer of Phnom Penh-based CIDC Information Technology, said the proposed measures would hurt only the US market in the long run.
“Cambodians are interested in American music and culture, but are not entirely familiar with it yet. They are not going to suddenly be willing or able to pay American prices for it, especially given the differences in the exchange rate and current state of the Cambodian economy,” he said.
Gaertner said his main concern was that acts of internet piracy committed in Cambodia might push Youtube or Facebook, sites popular among Cambodian internet users, to pull operations out of the country.
“[This country] has a history of piracy in the internet and elsewhere, and if the bills pass and these websites suddenly decide to temporarily cease operations in Cambodia, it could have drastic consequences for Cambodia’s internet development.”
Cambodian Institute for Media Studies director Mouen Chhean Nariddh said he believed that the United States’ example could negatively influence the Cambodian government.
“The US is a leading world power, and any infringements it imposes in its own country are likely to create a domino effect that could negatively influence young democracies such as Cambodia,” he said.
“The internet market is still developing here, and if the Cambodian government attempts to mirror the US effort, it would slow progress.”
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said any major changes from the government are unlikely, however.
“In the past, [Cambodia’s] government has shown little concern with intellectual property rights, and piracy has gone largely unregulated,” he said. “It is therefore unlikely to suddenly put forth measures to curb it just because it is being done in other countries.”
He added that even if SOPA or similar legislation did pass in the future, Cambodia would be little affected since the bills would target the source of the piracy rather than the end-user. He said that although the bills would criminalise the act of streaming copyrighted material, the original streamer websites were not located in Cambodia.
What could potentially affect the domestic market, he said, is if major US websites frequented by Cambodians were to suddenly make their protected content unavailable overseas.
“People here are increasingly using Youtube to discover Western music. Before we would just listen to Khmer songs, which in this instance would not encounter any copyright problems. But if such laws pass abroad, it could seriously limit our access here and create cultural gaps,” he told the Post.
While initial reports stated that US Representative Lamar S Smith, who drafted SOPA, had announced that SOPA and PIPA will remain stalled until there is a more accepted solution, an alternative called the OPEN Act had already been proposed.
The act would seek to stop the transfer of money to foreign websites whose primary purpose is piracy or counterfeiting, whereas SOPA and PIPA had been attempting to force search engines and internet providers to redirect users away from accessing the sites.