DVD boot­leg­gers told to shut down or pay for copy­rights

The Min­istry of Home Af­fairs has launched a crack­down on sell­ers of un­li­censed and un­cen­sored DVDs, though both buy­ers and ven­dors are balk­ing at the or­der since there are cur­rently no le­gal dis­trib­u­tors of for­eign DVDs in Myan­mar.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - SHOON NAING shoonnaing@mm­times.com

AU­THOR­I­TIES have launched a crack­down on shops sell­ing un­li­censed and un­cen­sored DVDs at the re­quest of the Myan­mar Mu­sic As­so­ci­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs.

With the pro­hi­bi­tion cov­er­ing not only lo­cal pro­duc­tions but also un­cen­sored for­eign DVDs, many shops of­fer­ing the lat­ter – typ­i­cally Korean TV se­ries and English-lan­guage movies – have been forced to close since the en­force­ment be­gan late last month.

Both shop own­ers and their pa­trons have balked, point­ing to the fact that there are cur­rently no le­gal dis­trib­u­tors of for­eign DVDs in Myan­mar.

“If they are go­ing to ar­rest for un­cen­sored for­eign DVDs, then they need to ar­rest ev­ery house­hold be­cause ev­ery­one has them. At least ev­ery house that has kids owns car­toon DVDs,” said a for­eign DVD shop owner in Yan­gon.

The di­rec­tor of the Myanma Mo­tion Pic­ture De­vel­op­ment De­part­ment, U Thein Naing, told The Myan­mar Times that those wish­ing to legally dis­trib­ute for­eign DVDs in Myan­mar can now ap­ply for a li­cence so long as they have al­ready pur­chased the film rights from the orig­i­nal copy­right holder.

“From early this year, those who would like to dis­trib­ute for­eign movies have been able to ap­ply to the cen­sor­ship [board] for a li­cence, and then we will cen­sor the movie and give the per­mis­sion just like with Myan­mar movies,” he said.

But shop own­ers have com­plained that buy­ing the film rights from orig­i­nal copy­right hold­ers would be a steep cost to bear, lead­ing to in­creases in the price of DVDs that are cur­rently be­ing sold at an av­er­age range of K300 (US$0.24) to K500 per DVD.

“If we buy the orig­i­nal copy­right, the price for DVDs will in­crease, but for a coun­try where one’s ba­sic in­come is K3600 per day, peo­ple won’t be able to buy a DVD that costs more than K500,” said the shop owner.

All for­eign films must be screened by the rel­e­vant cen­sor­ship board and can be legally dis­trib­uted only af­ter re­ceiv­ing ap­proval from the board, ac­cord­ing to U Min Tayza Nyunt Tin, a Myan­mar ex­pert work­ing for the Euro­pean Union’s Southeast Asia IPR-SME Helpdesk, an in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty re­source for the bloc’s small and medium en­ter­prises.

“All the for­eign DVD shops on the road­sides are un­cen­sored so it vi­o­lates the law. There are cer­tain cri­te­ria for the cen­sor­ship, such as the movie should be able to be watched by the whole fam­ily, or should not be overly diver­gent from Myan­mar tra­di­tions, and so on. So with­out cen­sor­ship, those [stan­dards] can­not be guar­an­teed,” he told The Myan­mar Times.

Though sale of un­cen­sored DVDs has al­ways tech­ni­cally been il­le­gal, shop own­ers ad­mit that a bribe could be paid to of­fer the discs in full pub­lic view. Those days ap­pear to be com­ing to an end, how­ever.

“We would ne­go­ti­ate with the au­thor­i­ties in or­der to be able to sell the un­cen­sored for­eign DVDs, but we are closed for now,” said the shop owner.

While ac­knowl­edg­ing their busi­nesses’ il­le­gal­ity, some shop own­ers ar­gue that liveli­hood con­cerns out­weigh their in­ter­est in ad­her­ing to the law.

“We know that sell­ing un­cen­sored for­eign DVDs is il­le­gal but the coun­try is very poor and we need to sur­vive,” said one shop owner.

Yan­gon Re­gion law­maker U Nyi Nyi (NLD; South Dagon) told The Myan­mar Times that he is pre­par­ing to dis­cuss the is­sue out­side the re­gional leg­is­la­ture with some of his col­leagues, law ex­perts and un­cen­sored for­eign DVD shop own­ers.

“I want to lis­ten to the voices of the un­cen­sored for­eign DVD shop own­ers. Some of our Myan­mar videos also copy ex­actly from for­eign movies so I want to know more about it,” he said.


Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing

A street­side ven­dor sells DVDs in down­town Yan­gon.

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