While copyright infringement has always been a serious global matter, the issue is even more complex in the fields of art, literature, and music – and in a young industry like Vietnam, content creators are struggling to navigate the intellectual property minefield while trying to catch up on the international stage.

Earlier this year, renowned Vietnamese animation studio Sconnect was the target of a lawsuit by US-based Entertainment One (EO), in which Sconnect’s Wolfoo franchise was sued for allegedly breaching EO’s Peppa Pig character set. Prior to the lawsuit, Wolfoo, a popular multi-language YouTube series based on a family of wolves, gained Sconnect international recognition along with a burgeoning merchandise business.

Copyright cases rise in face of integration

The Court of Moscow in Russia on August 3 officially terminated the civil proceedings of the lawsuit, affirming that no breach of intellectual property rights has been linked to Sconnect’s Wolfoo character set against EO’s Peppa Pig character.

However, the quickly-resolved lawsuit has nevertheless caused negative impacts on Sconnect’s reputation and business activities in the content creation industry. Talking with VIR, Sconnect’s head of Legal Pham Van Anh shared that the company had carried out thorough product and market research prior to entering the US market. “In the international playground, it often happens that competitors may deliberately rely on similarities to initiate copyright infringement lawsuits. However, it is within most countries’ laws that no exclusive protection is given to a certain creative style, idea, or opinion, and creators will have to follow the procedures prescribed by the laws of each country to protect their legitimate interests.”

Sconnect’s case is not the first dispute from overseas firms targeting Vietnamese creators. In February 2021, a popular video by Vietnamese pop singer Son Tung MTP was taken off YouTube following a report submitted by Producer CG, a UK-based music creator. To avoid publicity, the singer quickly resolved the issue, even though details were not made clear at the time.

Earlier, Min, another public figure in music, ran into similar issues.

Even though both singers were able to quickly recover their deleted videos, certain reputational and financial damages were suffered.

“Everyone has the right to make allegations, however, the court’s decision has to be based on documents and evidence,” Pham Duy Khuong, managing director of ASL Law, assessed. “In order to conclude on a copyright infringement, a technical and professional committee would need to be consulted, who will then decide whether a certain artwork is a derivative work or the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work has a substantial resemblance.”

Effective IP laws require creators and businesses to have the substantial legal knowledge to protect their own intellectual property (IP). According to Khuong, as the digital economy and e-commerce booms, many small- and medium-sized businesses from Vietnam are making big bucks from derivative products which are inspired by public figures. There is also an upward trajectory of Vietnamese enterprises contending with allegations of copyright infringement on international e-commerce sites. These issues are causing the international community to be on high alert for copyright-violated artworks, and somewhat creating a disadvantage for genuinely creative products.

According to the National Office of IP, in 2020 and 2021 there were over 65,000 IP protection applications in Vietnam. However, Luong Minh Huan, director of the Enterprise Development Institute under the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, assessed that considering the 860,000 enterprises operating in the market, the number of applications granted is still very modest.

“In the Industry 4.0 era and deep global integration, IP protection becomes even more complicated, with technology amplifying the outstanding issues that businesses have to face,” Huan said. “So while it is now easier for businesses to succeed, it’s also easier for them to fail if they lack careful preparation in terms of both physical and mental resources.”

Van Anh at Sconnect said groups must register for protection of its own IP rights. “Creators need to apply as soon as possible, and register in each country the products will appear to ensure legal coverage.”

According to the 2022 International IP Index 2022 by the US Chamber of Commerce, Vietnam ranks 42 out of 55 countries included in the report.

This year, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism has made significant progress in integration with the international IP community. Vietnam become a member of two World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) internet treaties: the WIPO Copyright Treaty in February, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty in July.

Source: VIR