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Thursday, 26 August 2010

Police, pirate tapes, poverty and politics: a sad tale

The IPKat is not a Siamese Kat and therefore rarely has the chance to peruse the Bangkok Post. It was however with great interest that he read a remarkable Opinion which sheds light on the social reality of life in a developing nation and the position occupied by the rule of law, social solidarity in the face of poverty, the function of the police and the status of copyright infringement within a society's scale of values.


Right: Samran swore blind he hadn't been rummaging round the garbage in search of pirate CDs, but the telltale dirt on his face and paws gave the game away ...

The article reads, in relevant part, as follows:
"When police act selectively

... Thailand is ... known throughout the world as a shoppers' paradise for pirated CDs and DVDs and fake brand-name wristwatches, handbags and garments. These illegal products are available in most shopping malls and on pavement stalls along Bangkok's streets and in provincial cities.

Despite their ubiquitous presence - oftentimes right next to a police station - the vendors are rarely arrested, let alone prosecuted and convicted for reasons well-known to both law enforcement officers and the sellers of pirated or copied products.
On Monday [16 August] one such vendor, Surat Maneenoprattanasuda, a temporary employee of City Hall, was found guilty of selling pirated VCDs without a licence under the Motion Pictures and Video Act, and was fined 133,400 baht [that's about US$ 4,250] by the Criminal Court.
Normally such a case would warrant just a few paragraphs in a newspaper. But this one made the front page of the mass-circulation Thai Rath newspaper .... Also, it attracted the attention of PM's Office Minister Ong-art Klampaibul, who paid a visit to the convict's family to show his sympathy and to pledge legal help.
According to Mr Surat's version of the story, besides working as a temporary employee at City Hall, he also collects saleable scrap from the garbage to make extra income to feed his family, which includes two young daughters. On the day he was arrested by Hua Mark police, ... he was selling the scraps he'd collected, which included some 30 pirated CDs and old shoes. He claimed that two other vendors who were also selling pirated CDs and DVDs right next to him were left untouched by the five policemen.
There appears to be no doubt that Mr Surat was caught while selling pirated CDs. But what is most troubling about the case is that the police appear to have applied a double standard in arresting Mr Surat while ignoring the two other vendors. Worse still, despite the circumstances, the public prosecutor in charge decided to press ahead with the case in court, which handed down its verdict in accordance with the prosecution's evidence.
Kayasit Pisawongprakarn, the director-general of public prosecution for criminal cases, was quoted by Thai Rath as saying that if he'd been aware of the case in the first place, it would not have reached court. He cited the case of a boy who'd been caught by police for stealing a few salapao or Chinese buns to feed his starving sisters - a case which the prosecution dropped.
It is quite heartening that assistance is pouring in for Mr Surat with expected free legal counselling from the Law Society to fight the case in the Appeals Court. Hopefully, he will be finally granted justice.
But while the media and public attention is focused on the victim of what is seen as an injustice against a poor man, it is hoped that this will not be just a case of a flash in the pan which will go away once the Press stops writing about it. The issue at stake which, so far, has not been addressed is the double standards practised by the police in this particular case, and the police corruption in general. Unless the issue is discussed in earnest, any hope that Mr Surat's case will serve as a warning to all the vendors and producers of pirated VCDs and DVDs of the consequences of the new anti-piracy law, can only be wishful thinking.
Indeed, so long as money speaks loudest, it will be business as usual for entrepreneurs of fake and pirated goods in Thailand."
Says the IPKat, it's difficult to know what to make of this episode in which there are many losers and, with the possible exception of the Prime Minister's Office in terms of its attempt to gain credibility with voters by latching on to a cause with which voters may well sympathise, no real winners.

Siamese cats here and [if you can bear it] here
More on cats and rubbish here, here and -- to show there's justice in this world -- here

Thanks are due to the IPKat's grand old friend Guy Selby-Lowndes for unearthing this item.

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