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The Vietnam News

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Inexperienced judges hinder Vietnam’s fight against piracy

The lack of judges experienced in dealing with intellectual property (IP) cases is hindering efforts to clamp down on music, movie and software piracy in Vietnam, heard a conference last week in Ho Chi Minh City.

While Vietnam had adequate IP laws, there was a shortage of judges capable of presiding over IP ownership disputes, said patent and trademark attorney Cao Anh Tuan of Pham & Associates. Tuan said he was disappointed with a recent verdict on a dispute between a publisher and a photographer over the copyright of a photograph. The ruling showed the judge did not fully understand the concept of IP rights and derivative rights, he said.

Phan Gia Quy, tribunal president of Ho Chi Minh City’s Economic Court, which deals with IP disputes, said Vietnamese judges did not have many opportunities to handle IP cases, with each judge only presiding over about two such cases a year. Quy said the court conducted about 120 civil and criminal IP cases a year. Although all the cases related to counterfeit goods, all the disputes involving illegal copying of software had so far been settled out of court, he said. Tran Van Su, the court’s deputy president, said Vietnamese judges were uncertain about the level of compensation to award in IP cases.

Vietnam has one of the world’s highest levels of software piracy. According to the Business Software Alliance (BSA), 88 percent of software used in Vietnam is illegally copied, compared to an average of 55 percent in Asia. A Supreme Court official, who asked to remain unnamed, said although software piracy in Vietnam was high, it was not a highly organized criminal activity. Pirated software was mostly used by families and students, he said.

BSA’s Asian anti-piracy director Tarun Sawney said judges could play an important role in the war against piracy by imposing heavy penalties to deter other offenders. Thai judge Jayin Sunthornsingkarn said piracy was also a problem in his country. However, more piracy cases were brought to court, with more than 6,700 cases before Thai courts last year. He suggested Vietnam set up a specific court to deal with IP disputes, rather than having copyright cases heard in the Economic Court. Vu Manh Chu, head of Copyright Office of Vietnam, said the government was planning to issue a new degree with harsher penalties for piracy. According to Chu, the maximum fine for piracy will be doubled to VND100 million (US$6,250). Chu said greater public awareness of piracy could help reduce the incidents of illegal copying in Vietnam.

One positive sign that progress was being made to eliminate piracy was the recent agreement between 50 big hotels and the Copyright Protection Center, which represents Vietnamese music composers. Under the deal, hotel operators will pay an annual royalty of about VND3 billion ($189,000) to the center for using the composers’ songs in their hotels.

By Minh Quang - Thanh Nien - March 12, 2008.