Theater director takes entertainment firm to court in IP row

By Ha Thu    March 13, 2019 | 02:35 am PT
Theater director takes entertainment firm to court in IP row
The Quintessence of Tonkin is staged entirely on water, uses advanced 3D visuals, and hundreds of performers. Photo courtesy of The Quintessence of Tonkin.
Viet Tu, a renowned Vietnamese director, says an award-winning theater spectacle has poached his ideas.

The entity accused of Intellectual Property infringement is entertainment corporation Tuan Chau Hanoi JSC (TCHN), which produced the Tinh Hoa Bac Bo (The Quintessence of Tonkin).

The first instance trial in the intellectual property infringement case will take place at the Hanoi People’s Court on March 14. This is the first official hearing since almost a year when both sides began making claims and counterclaims. 

The dispute is over The Quintessence of Tonkin, a large-scale, open-air water stage musical celebrating the heritage of Tonkin, an agricultural region in northern Vietnam, that was released in October 2017. 

Lauded by foreign media as a "world-class performance", the show has been a massive success, picking up the Gold Stevie Award in Media, Visual Communications & Entertainment given by the American Business Awards Organization, as well as two entries in the Vietnam Guinness Book of Records.

Viet Tu, a Vietnamese theater director and event organizer, well known for orchestrating major events such as the opening and closing ceremonies of the 22nd Southeast Asian Games in 2003, is an ex-employee of TCHN.

He claims that show, a project that did not involve him, was entirely based off a previous musical directed by him for the company four months earlier. 

"The Quintessence of Tonkin was created shortly after my musical Ngay Xua (Back Then) came out. It reused in entirety my show’s architecture, stage, backdrop, costumes, and props. There are many points in the stories that overlap. They have even used almost all of the actors I trained," Tu claimed.

"My name needs to appear in the credits for concept, stage design and story creation. In addition, I need to receive a 10 percent lifetime royalty from the play as they have pledged," he said. 

TCHN, the entertainment firm which produced both musicals, has denied these allegations. They maintain that The Quintessence of Tonkin is a separate product solely researched and created by directors Hoang Huu Nhat Nam and Dao Thuy Phuong Thao. 

The company has said that the show drew its content from the culture, art, music and literature of Vietnam’s northern countryside to portray the life and traditions of people there. They assert that the musical was an independent project, free of any influence or duplication from Tu’s show Ngay Xua.  

The company has also alleged that Tu has infringed its intellectual property rights by arbitrarily registering a copyright under his name for The Quintessence of Tonkin.

Although mediation has been suggested by lawyers of both sides, the case has proceeded to court. 

In June 2017, Tu released his musical Ngay Xua, which he claimed was Vietnam’s first "real-life performance", produced by TCHN. However, after only 10 showings, the show was abruptly cancelled. Representatives of TCHN explained the musical was axed because director Viet Tu was not able to "touch the hearts of the audience". 

Not long after, in October 2017, TCHN released The Quintessence of Tonkin, which it also called "the first real-life performance" in Vietnam. The show went on to receive international attention and won several awards.  

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