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.
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.
A streetside vendor sells DVDs in downtown Yangon.