Piracy continues to be a bugbear for filmmakers

By Linh Do   July 31, 2021 | 11:36 pm PT
Piracy continues to be a bugbear for filmmakers
Cast and crew of Bo Gia. Photo courtesy of the movie.
Despite ongoing efforts to block popular websites that copy and screen films illegally, piracy remains a thorny issue in Vietnam.

The latest casualty is the movie ‘Bo Gia’ (Dad, I’m Sorry), the biggest box office hit of all time.

Within a day of its release on its distributor Galaxy Studio’s subscription streaming service, Galaxy Play, the movie was pirated by several websites.

A Galaxy Play spokesperson told the media that more than 10 sites uploaded the movie illegally, including phimgiz, fullphimmoi, bilutvs, phimmoii, and zingtvs.

Galaxy Play also complained about a slew of other pirated films during the time of pandemic when demand for online viewing is surging as people are increasingly forced to stay at home and go online for amusement.

They include the series ‘Gai Ngan Do’ (Thousand-dollar Babes) about prostitution, which caused an uproar last year as, after just three episodes, it was uploaded online, seemingly everywhere.

Galaxy Play repeatedly complained to authorities, demanding they block the illegal sites, but they simply reappeared under different names.

In this case and others, piracy sites are often hosted abroad, making it difficult to shut them down.

Distributors estimate that at least 80 percent of Vietnamese movies screened in theaters and then released on streaming services are being copied and distributed illegally online.

According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism’s cinema department, there are some 400 Vietnamese-language sites that stream thousands of local and foreign films, mostly without copyright.

The enormous financial losses caused by persistent online piracy discourage producers and distributors alike. The bad technical quality of pirated films also affects producers and directors’ reputations.

There are also other risks associated with pirating sites.

According to a recent study commissioned by the Asia Video Industry Association’s Coalition Against Piracy (CAP) and done by YouGov, an international online market research company, people accessing pirate websites also run the risk of funding criminal gangs and malware infection through clickbait.

The study released in May also found 60 percent of Vietnamese consumers admitting to using pirate streaming or torrent sites, making Vietnam one of Southeast Asia’s online piracy hotspots. Of these consumers, 59 percent also say they cancel their paid services after accessing pirate sites.

Last year the U.S. placed Vietnam in its watch list of 33 countries that do not adequately or effectively protect and enforce intellectual property rights.

In its annual Special 301 Report on Intellectual Property Protection, the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) identified Vietnam’s lack of coordination between government authorities and heavy reliance on administrative rather than criminal enforcement among problems that need to be addressed to deter widespread counterfeiting and piracy.

In its separate Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy focusing on online piracy and malware, the USTR also named a very popular Vietnamese film streaming site, phimmoi.net, as one of the most notorious piracy sites in the world.

At its peak, this site got over 100 million visits a month. In response to rights holders’ complaints in 2019, the Vietnamese government investigated and ordered Internet service providers to block phimmoi.net and then its subsequent avatars like phimmoiz.com, phimmoiz.net and phimmoizz.net.

But this site can still be accessed under a completely new domain.

Film producers and distributors say audiences can help a great deal to combat online piracy by giving up their habit of watching pirated films for free.

In recent years audiences have been offered a variety of subscription services and apps by global brands like Netflix and Apple TV and local players like Galaxy Play, FPT Play, Danet, and Clip TV. Their average monthly fees range from VND50,000 ($2) to VND260,000 ($11).

For those who are not into films, any price is expensive. Yet, for those who are willing to pay to watch films, especially on well-known worldwide brands like Netflix, many have hit upon a good way to subscribe at a cheaper price: find a bunch of like-minded friends and split the fees.

Hanh Nguyen, who only pays around VND60,000 for her monthly share of Netflix, finds the full HD and commercial-free quality of subscription services clearly superior to piracy sites.

She does not watch films on Netflix very often since many aren’t any good and it does not have all the titles she wants to watch. But it has a range of animation films for children to choose from.

For Lily Chu, who subscribes to various streaming services like Netflix and FPT Play, prices are not a problem because they are the same as one movie ticket in Vietnam.

She said subscription services enable her to watch films at her own convenience, especially during the pandemic, and offer diverse options. Netflix for instance has many new feature-length films, while FPT Play constantly updates new film series.

According to the CAP survey, 35 percent of Vietnamese who access piracy sites said they would stop their behavior if the government takes action.

According to Aaron Herps, the general manager of CAP, in Indonesia, where there is only one government agency rather than multiple ones tasked with enforcing copyright protection, CAP has been able to submit over 3,000 unique domains to be blocked over a 24-month period and seen a 73 percent decrease in websites streaming pirated materials.

He said site blocking has been shown internationally to be an effective tool in mitigating users’ attempts to access pirate websites and apps, and can even boost consumers’ use of legal subscription services.

However, to be effective, the site blocking process must be responsive and quick across all service providers, and, critically, alert to new websites created by pirates, he said.

Blocking a small number of websites targeting Vietnamese users by itself would not bring about change, and what is needed instead is sustained enforcement by authorities that targets the criminal syndicates that continue to operate pirate sites by both blocking their websites to limit consumers’ access and robustly prosecuting the offenders who continue to undermine the legitimate Vietnamese content and creative industries, he said.

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