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Vietnam makes progress in struggle to crack down on online film copyright infringement

Tuesday, June 23, 2020, 19:04 GMT+7
Vietnam makes progress in struggle to crack down on online film copyright infringement
A person browses the pirated movie website phimmoi.net on a laptop in Vietnam. Photo: Ly Nguyen / Tuoi Tre

The recent blocking of a popular website for streaming pirated movies in Vietnam has caught public attention and represents a rare big move by Vietnamese authorities who have found the issue of online film copyright infringement difficult to control.

A local Internet service provider (ISP)'s representative told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper it had blocked access to the site’s domain name 'phimmoi.net' from June 18 under new guidelines.

The representative acknowledged this was only a stopgap measure as it has always been a hard job for them to deal with websites streaming pirated films.

This opinion is quite easy to understand, especially considering the way the 'phimmoi.net' popped back up nearly immediately after the blockade.

The website was 'revived' just one day after being blocked under a new domain name.

‘A positive signal’

While some consider blocking the DNS as a Band-Aid solution and ultimately futile, many other industry experts disagree.

"It's quite a leap for the authorities to block the domain name,” said Phan Thanh Gian, the chief executive officer of ClipTV, a platform offering television services online.

"This measure, of course, can't shut down the website completely, but it makes a very clear impact on the current situation.

"Using a new domain name means it would take a while for the audiences to get used to it again. In addition to that, the infringer would suffer the loss of traffic as well as revenue."

Gian added there is no perfect solution to this problem but he hopes there will be effective cooperation between the authorities and advertising agencies in the campaign against copyright infringement.

Websites streaming pirated films often use a content delivery network (CDN) system to provide films on the Internet, according to Gian.

They can pay for their own CDN or take advantage of the policy of giant platforms with their own CDN servers such as Facebook and Google to upload the illegal content.

Websites like phimmoi.net create a Facebook account then upload pirated films to the account, setting the videos visible only to the account holder to avoid being accused of copyright infringement.

For the next step, they use tools to connect the account to their pirated websites providing film streaming services to the end-users.

In this way, they can not only circumvent the authorities but also avoid paying extra costs associated with hosting the movies on their own servers.

These illegal websites’ revenue comes from ad placement. The less they have to pay for hosting, the more profit they can collect.

In fact, phimmoi.net is not the only website streaming pirated motion pictures in Vietnam. Many similar websites exist to meet the huge demand from local audiences wanting to watch films for free.

Infringers employ various tactics to duck law enforcement, including hiding their identities using foreign servers or domain names, and opening overseas bank accounts to receive ad revenues.

Many other experts consider phimmoi.net’s domain name being blocked as 'a positive signal' to the over-the-top (OTT) market in Vietnam.

OTT is a streaming media service offered directly to viewers via the Internet.

Many entrepreneurs hesitate to invest in Vietnam's OTT market for fear of the huge potential risk because of the copyright infringement problem versus the small potential for revenue at the moment.

The latest move is viewed as a good signal by some investors who intend to invest in the OTT market, in some ways helping to raise the Vietnamese public's awareness of copyright and copyright breach.

An OTT set-top box is seen in this file photo. Photo: Ly Thanh / Tuoi Tre

An OTT set-top box is seen in this file photo. Photo: Ly Thanh / Tuoi Tre

Controversial reactions

After the website phimmoi.net's domain name was blocked on June 18, there were controversial reactions to the move.

Thousands of comments expressing regret over what had happened to the website showed up on various social media outlets.

Several netizens bemoaned that they were in the process of watching a new film series on the website and they “don't know how to live without it."

Some said it was normal to watch a pirated film for free.

"Are there any legal websites that offer as many films as the illegal ones?" one person asked.

There were also a huge number of people who expressed their excitement when phimmoi.net came back under another domain name on June 19; however, the development was not without its detractors.

In critics' eyes, showing regret for the blocking of a pirated website is unacceptable and must be condemned.

"If you benefit from watching a pirated website, you should at least know to be ashamed of it, instead of talking about it as if you were proud," Thanh Le, a media agency worker based in Ho Chi Minh City, told Tuoi Tre.

"You should learn to get used to paying for what you choose to enjoy and what benefits you," he continued.

Although not a high-income earner, Thanh said he still opts for paid services for watching films or listening to music online from providers running affordable services and allowing users to use a shared account.

He currently pays over VND200,000 (US$8.60) every month for such services, which he says is worth the price.

Kim Ngan, another citizen in Ho Chi Minh City, has another reason to frown upon pirated movie websites: they promote online gambling services.

“Phimmoi.net and other websites not only stream films illegally but they also promote online gambling services. This must be condemned,” she said.

Gambling is generally illegal in Vietnam except in authorized casinos serving foreigners.

Online gambling advertisements appear on a Vietnamese website offering illegal film streaming service. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

Online gambling advertisements appear on a Vietnamese website offering illegal film streaming service. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

In a discussion with Tuoi Tre, a representative from a big Vietnamese film distributor expressed concerns about the far-reaching and long-term consequences caused by the pirated movie websites for the film industry, especially in Vietnam.

"The fact that imported films or film remakes haven't been released but their pirated versions are already streamed over the Internet is causing us a heavy loss," the representative said.

"There were a few quality films that we would like to spend time promoting widely, but because of the fear for pirated films we had to release them quickly, which affected the quality of the movies' promotion campaign," the representative explained.

Phimmoi.net ranked 14th on the list of Vietnam's most-visited websites in January, according to statistics from We Are Social, a London-based company.

Its monthly traffic was 5.2 million visitors on average.

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Kim Thoa / Tuoi Tre News

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