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Songwriters face an uphill IP struggle

Update: June, 15/2014 - 16:18

The Viet Nam Centre for the Protection of Music Copyright (VCPMC) has been struggling hard to ensure due royalty payments for Vietnamese songwriters. The centre's director, songwriter Pho Duc Phuong, talks to Mai Chau about the road.

Inner Sanctum: Has the development of the Viet Nam Centre for Protection of Music Copyright met expectations after twelve years of operation?

In the last few years, the centre has tried hard to overcome various challenges and difficulties. Its recent development, however, has not been as sustainable as it was during the initial period. If in the first seven years, the centre had developed steadily, it has only developed at the rate of around 10 per cent in the last three or four years. This shows that many difficulties still exist that the centre has to overcome.

Inner Sanctum: What are the specific difficulties currently faced by the centre?

The difficulties faced by the centre include regulations that are not strong enough, so many violators continue taking advantage of the lapses. In performances, state administrators should only provide a licence to those artists who have conformed to intellectual property laws, such as obtaining the permission of the songwriters. But this is hard for us to police because the state administrators who have formulated the regulations and documents have also issued licences to artists who have not asked for the songwriters' permission or a contract. The greatest difficulty we have faced in the last ten years is in demanding that the artists who use a song obtain permission or pay the writer of the song.

Inner Sanctum: Does this mean that these difficulties have also originated because of a lack of personnel at the centre?

The lack of personnel is just a small difficulty. Even when we have sufficient staff, those gaps cannot be filled. The duty of the centre also involves identifying the gaps and making proposals for state administrators to fill those gaps. However, this duty is comparable to dealing with a difficult mathematical problem that takes a long time and great effort to solve.

Inner Sanctum: Many websites that offer online music have charged a fee for downloading songs, but they do not charge for listening to music online. What is your opinion on this?

There are many ways of listening to music online, and in specific cases, the listeners are charged a fee. Songwriters, whose representative is the copyright centre, cooperate closely with Internet providers. Basically, the Internet providers are aware of the need to avoid violating the law. Their only concern is to find ways of operating within the law.

Inner Sanctum: But if strict regulations are implemented on paying for listening to online music, will this help in raising public awareness?

That is correct! But there are some regulations that the Internet providers themselves find unnecessary. They even allow people to listen to online music for free and agree to pay us a certain amount as a token.

Inner Sanctum: What has the VCPMC learned from the International Confederation of Authors and Composers Societies (CISAC)?

CISAC is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation and the world's largest network of collective management organisations of authors' copyright, which have actively worked in the field of authors' copyright with the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

Countries that are members of CISAC applied their combined ten years of experience to the centre's operations. However, there are several things that the centre could not learn from CISAC's experience – the typical example of which is the gap that lies between licensing and asking for the writers' permission. Some solutions have been executed very well by CISAC, but we could not apply or follow them. Despite that fact, the VCPMC has had many opportunities to observe and learn from many interesting experiences, and the centre will try to apply the most suitable ones within Viet Nam.

Inner Sanctum: What is the next goal of the VCPMC to stimulate the activities of protecting the copyright of songwriters in Viet Nam?

With the centre's current speed of development, at 10 per cent per year, it will take about 40 years for Viet Nam's activities of protecting authors' copyright to catch up with those of Malaysia.

Though our efforts have been recognised and encouraged by relevant organisations such as the Arts and Literature Association, the result is insufficient. We therefore need a new point of view and a new direction and have to turn our partners such as television stations and Internet providers into friends so that songwriters' works and products can be exchanged and exploited most effectively. And in order to do so, one of the first requirements is acquiring the relevant level of technology at the centre, because right now, the centre is still far behind the times, to be honest.

We will supplement, train and raise the awareness of our staff, so that we can shorten the time to catch up with neighbouring countries in protecting the copyright of songwriters. This responsibility is relatively complex, but we will always try our best to ensure the sustainable development of Viet Nam's music industry. — VNS

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