“Enforcement and protection of ownership and related rights, and ownership rights of computer software in particular, is one of the biggest concerns and requires special attention from the Government,” Pham Cao Thai, chief inspector at the ministry, said.
Every year the ministry’s inspectorate sends thousands of reminders to businesses to review their IT systems and furnish licences for all the software they use or distribute, and warns them that non-compliance with copyright laws would make them liable for administrative and legal action and make Vietnamese firms less competitive regionally, he said.
Enforcement and protection of copyrights would be stricter than ever this year thanks to recent amendments to the Penal Code, he said.
“If the lack of awareness and compliance persists, businesses will find themselves facing major risks which could adversely affect their operations, [including] prosecution.”
Under amendments made last year to the Penal Code, which took effect this year, intellectual property infringements will be subject to criminal prosecution and no longer civil sanctions.
Besides, from now the business will also be liable and not just the individuals involved in case of violations of ownership and related rights and infringement of brand names and geographic indicators.
Article 225 of the Penal Code stipulates that violations of IPR and related rights by private individuals carries a non-custodial sentence of three years or a jail term of up to three years.
Businesses found guilty will be fined VND300 million to VND1 billion (US$13,000-43,800) for the first offence.
If the offence is repeated, the penalty will be a fine of VND3 billion ($130 million) or suspension of operations for up to two years.
The past record of the wrongdoing business will also be a factor in the penalty it gets.
Since the law has been made more specific, IPR owners and regulatory authorities will be able to deal with infringements more easily.
Lawyer Pham Duy Khuong said: “This is very important in combating intellectual property right breaches since evidence over the years shows that most of the offences committed to date have been by [businesses].
“Sometimes, these commercial legal entities are even created and put into operation for the sole purpose of abusing intellectual property rights that are registered and protected in Viet Nam.
“It is time for such piracy to be brought under control with strong punitive action to ensure that intellectual property created through others’ efforts and costs is protected.
“Hopefully with the new and better rules finally in place, the Penal Code will provide effective legal resources in the fight against IPR infringements in Viet Nam.”
The director general of the Copyright Office of Viet Nam, Bui Nguyen Hung, said: “Over the years enforcement and protection of ownership rights and related rights in general, and ownership rights for computer software programmes have achieved impressive results.
“Nevertheless, computer software piracy is still prevalent in different forms and to varying degrees.
“This is mostly due to poor awareness of the law and the realisation they have to comply with it on the part of many individuals and organisations that provide and use computer software.”
An official from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism revealed that inter-agency inspection teams checked 63 businesses and imposed fines of nearly VND1.6 billion ($70,000) last year.