Saturday, August 2, 2008

CAMBOFEST's position on public performance & other IP-movie rights issues related to the movie industry in Cambodia

CAMBOFEST has been receiving some flack and interference from folks locally who disagree with our stance regarding the lawful public performance of movies in Cambodia. (Can't actually see any basis not to respect copyright holder/filmmaker's work...someone please fill us in on these alternate viewponts?)

For whatever reason, some individuals insist that public performance rights for movies which are promoted and exhibited at their venue is a trivial non-issue which 1) only applies in the West or in developed countries, and that such practices 2) do not negatively impact the development of the media sector and cinema industry in Cambodia*.

[*as everyone knows, a hot topic now]

Nor is it of concern that, regionally (and even internationally) practices of such venues and their supporters are greeted with great skepticism and disappointment at the expense of Cambodia's image abroad.

Nor are most folks here aware of the fact that a much-clamored-for legitimate (ie, first run movies, aka "real movies") Phnom Penh cinema likely will be indefinitely delayed so long as motion picture distributors and investors observe unchallenged, blatant & open disregard for public performance of movies by venue proprietors who should--and do--know better.

(Read more about public performance issues here)

In other words: why invest in a "real" movie house and undertake the burden of renting prints from distributors, when competing illegitimate venue proprietors enjoy the unfair (and unlawful) financial and administrative advantage of not having to rent prints or screeners or spend time filling out paperwork regarding public performance licenses, etc?

(In a nutshell the motion picture exhibition business works like this: A] exhibitor rents print or screener, which includes public performance and so costs money, for X sum or split of box office B] box office is often split heavily in favor of distributor/studio, ie, 90-10, leaving in this case exhibitor with only 10%, BUT exhibitor makes money off of concessions and other tie-ins C] after specified number of runs or rental window, exhibitor ships print or screener back, or obviously may pull movie earlier in case of a flop.

Revenue gained is counted against overhead, including print or screener rental, yielding profit or loss. The key to all this is: distributor/studio tends not to rent or license print to territory (country) which supports or even tolerates blatant misuse of their motion pictures. Why take a chance?)

Cultural organizations who support illegitimate movie events and venues in Cambodia should be taking a far more diligent stance, insofar as their support of any venue's copyright-violating activities negatively impacts the growth and development of the cinema in Cambodia.

Anyway, CamboFest disagrees with misuse of IP in terms of public performance of movies. Herewith, we'll clarify and restating our position on the subject...which is one we share regionally with Gerry at the Hanoi Cinematheque and HOUSE RCA in Thailand:

CAMBOFEST adheres 100% to industry standard practices of secure public performance permissions from copyright holder, period. We believe this is important because it contributes towards a standard which will help grow the emerging commercial media sector in a bona fide way. We also do our best to make sure that works we select to screen have secured all reproduction rights regarding likenesses, music, and otherwise*.

[*]A recent inadvertant exception to CamboFest's adherence to rights issues occured in our 2007 edition, via a screening of filmmaker Greg Cahill's movie, The Golden Voice, which had not secured music rights or synchronization rights to the music of the subject of his biopic by the time it screened at CamboFest 2007. But in that instance, the filmmaker had confirmed prior to screening that he had secured all rights necessary for public performance of the picture (including music rights), as per CamboFest regulations and entry forms.

So at least on fest's side, we' d like to let it be known that we did our best to vet the movie with proper due diligence.

Had CamboFest been aware of The Golden Voice lack of music rights for the work of Cambodian musician Ros Sereysothea, we would obviously have addressed those issues before screening the work in public. Unfortunately, we were stuck in the awkward position of not only having screened the (otherwise-decently made and crowd-pleasing) movie, but also having awarded one of the five CamboFest trophies, the Golden Buffalo, for Best Short Film.

We are liasing with local copyright lawyers in Cambodia to determine the status of pre-KR intellectual property, including the music of Khmer rock luminaries such as Mr. Cahill's subject, Ros Sereysothea, whose chain of title had presumably--but innacurately, it turns out--been dissolved by the KR regime.

In short: Cambodian artist's work pre-KR is protected by copyright standards, and we'll make details of this forthcoming on our Blog and/or website shortly.

CAMBOFEST is 100% in favor of Cambodian artists getting their fair share from any use of their work, extenuating or perceived historical circumstances non-withstanding. We'll also do our best to share any further insights with filmmakers who have erred regarding assumptions of KR (Khmer Rouge) dissolution of intellectual property ownership, and we'll do our best within reason to suggest any corrections.

(Purchase of music rights can often be fairly cheap and painless; Camerado's first feature, BOOKWARS, acquired music and synchronization rights to all of its music for a few hundred dollars; our second feature SUSAN HERO enjoyed custom tunes in exchange for exposure in the soundtrack. Basically it just takes a little effort and outreach... )

Finally, a brief Q&A about what YOU can do about public performance of movies in Cambodia!

Q: What can I do about all this? I wanna see movies on the Big Screen.
A: Do it at home, with friends, with a video projector. Make sure you limit your outreach so that its not a "public event" that will not impact the IP climate or cannibalize another legitimate movie business or enterprise.

Q: But that's a pain in the ass! (that's not a question, but we'll include it anyway...)
A: Well decide how you want it, you can't have it both ways. Think of it as addressing a "litter problem" can't be expected to pick up everyone else's mess, but you can do your part.

Q: Anything else?
A: Sure; talk to venue owner and exhibitor and discuss the issue with them; sometimes they're unaware. If it's a small, casual screening then damage to the IP climate and media sector is probably minimal...but aggressively promoted and publicized programs without public performance rights or permission from the copyright holder, is bogus and damages the IP climate and media sector. Share these thoughts with venue owner and/or the cultural organizations that support the venue!

Q: See here, I'm a venue owner and I don't charge an admission fee for screening my movies, although I do promote them. Aren't I exempt?
A: No, my friend, you need to get proper permissions. Bogus screenings damage the IP climate and stunt the growth the development of a bona-fide movie industry in Cambodia. Also, if you're not charging admission but using a regular bogus screening series to sell concessions or to add (perceived) value to your venue, then, yes, of course, you should do things the right way: it'll also add credibility to your venue.

If you have support of an arts or cultural organization, ask them to help you get permissions; it'll reflect well on your venue, on the organization, and will boost the fragile movie industry in Cambodia as a whole.
(Incidentally, it's not curatorially sound for the filmmaker/copyright holder to have their work screened without their permission...even aside from money concerns, they can't exploit the screening opportunity if they don't know about it).

Anyway, CamboFest staff welcomes any opportunity to debate and discuss these issues in person, in a public open forum if there's a worthy counter-viewpoint that should be examined.

(Please offer 2-3 weeks notice before any scheduled debate)

Thanks for reading, and thanks for supporting CAMBOFEST: Film and Video Festival of Cambodia...we hope to see you at CamboFest "Lite" on August 9th! (see for info)

((Sok Sabai))

PS--Thanks also to local Phnom Penh yokel and notable Cambo cultural contributor John Weeks for his help in doing outreach recently to Cambo filmmakers re: the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.