In recent years, copyright holders have paid close attention to a growing number of large piracy services with connections to Vietnam.
Representatives of the Motion Picture Association (MPA) and the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), went as far as traveling to the Asian country to discuss the problem with local authorities.
The problematic sites and services, which include Fmovies, AniWave, 123movies, BestBuyIPTV, 2embed, and Y2mate, have many millions of monthly users globally. Several attempts have been made to alert the authorities to these ‘criminal’ platforms but to date, criminal convictions have proven elusive.
IIPA Flags Vietnam as a Piracy Haven
To strengthen its call for action, the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) urges the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to assist. The IIPA represents the interests of prominent rightsholder groups, including the MPA, RIAA, and ESA, and highlights the Vietnam problem in its recent “Special 301” recommendation.
“Vietnam has become a leading global exporter of piracy services and Vietnamese operators have been associated with some of the world’s most pervasive piracy websites, causing significant damage to both the local and international marketplaces,” IIPA writes.
It’s no secret that many large pirate sites and services have links to Vietnam and local authorities are aware of at least some of them. While this has resulted in some enforcement action, the first piracy-related criminal conviction has yet to take place.
A high-profile conviction would reassure rightsholders and other companies considering investments in the country, IIPA reasons, while noting that the country is currently seen as a “piracy haven”.
“The Government of Vietnam should recognize that securing the country’s ‘first’ criminal copyright conviction would provide significant reassurance to companies that are considering investing in local content and provide rights holders with a better understanding and assurance regarding the required criminal process,” the IIPA notes.
“The criminal enforcement path available against these sites and their operators remains excessively long and lacks transparency.”
The IIPA highlights several concrete piracy challenges, which aren’t limited to video entertainment. Recent survey data released by music industry group IFPI showed that roughly two-thirds (66%) of Vietnamese respondents between the age of 16-44 regularly pirate music. That’s well above the global average.
A popular option to obtain copyrighted music is through YouTube-ripping platforms such as Y2Mate, which reportedly has links to Vietnam. The site blocked visitors from the US and UK in 2021, but that decision was recently reversed.
“Importantly, Y2Mate is one of a network of seven globally popular stream-ripping sites believed to be operating from Vietnam,” IFPI writes.
“Although the operator of Y2mate.com voluntarily geo-blocked access from the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany, the site is once again accessible from these countries, and while the site was geoblocked the operator set up alternative stream-ripping sites.”
Persistent Movie/TV Pirates
Y2mate isn’t the only site persisting with its piracy activities. There’s a pattern of Vietnamese sites and services ostensibly giving in to legal pressure, only to later reappear with a twist.
As reported here earlier, ACE previously tracked down the operators of 2embed and zoro.to, who appeared cooperative after they were paid a visit. However, those actions didn’t have a lasting effect.
Zoro.to was reportedly ‘acquired‘ by a new team, who kept the site online under the Aniwatch brand. Similarly, 2embed’s ‘shutdown‘ had little effect as a new 2embed swiftly replaced it, presumably with links to the old team.
In its recommendation to the USTR, the IIPA highlights both events as key examples of the enforcement challenges rightsholders face in Vietnam.
“Both 2embed and zoro.to were being operated by the same network of identified operators. In a Knock-and-Talk operation in July 2023 undertaken by the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) the operators of these sites handed over administrative control of the primary and associated domains.”
“However, in a matter of weeks a new domain (aniwatch.to) replaced zoro.to and thereafter a new domain (2mbed.me) replaced 2embed.to. Criminal enforcement action by the [Ministry of Public Security] is needed to close such expansive piracy networks,” IIPA adds.
Criminal Enforcement, Please
Legally, Vietnamese authorities have the power to act against these piracy moguls. In 2018, copyright infringement offenses were added to the country’s Criminal Code. Practical challenges remain, however.
In 2021, there was some hope when Vietnamese police questioned the alleged founder and two employees of the notorious piracy site Phimmoi.net. However, no charges were filed as a result and local authorities eventually suspended the investigation.
More recently, ACE submitted criminal referrals targeting Fmovies and BestBuyIPTV to Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS). Thus far, these cases are still ‘stuck’ in processing, IIPA says, with little sign of progress.
“[T]here remains a lack of transparency and clarity with the MPS continuing to request additional evidence without explanation or reasoning, potentially using the opaque process as a pretext to delay the investigation or not pursue a prosecution,” IIPA writes.
It’s clear that rightsholders are becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation. The IIPA suggests a more robust enforcement framework should be a top priority for 2024.
“Establish a robust enforcement framework and ensure enforcement officials […]investigate and criminally prosecute commercial-scale piracy sites and services as well as bring administrative actions.”
The above is just a small selection of IIPA’s comments and suggestions for Vietnam, which go far beyond the need for criminal action.
The ultimate conclusion is that Vietnam deserves to be called out on the USTR’s “Priority Watch List” in the upcoming Special 301 Review.
IIPA’s 2024 Special 301 Report on Copyright Protection and Enforcement, which includes all Vietnam references, is available here (pdf)
From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.