Websites streaming pirated movies in Vietnam have long been a conundrum for both copyright holders and Vietnamese authorities. Phimmoi, a site listed in the 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy of the United States Trade Representative, is perhaps the most infamous one, offering thousands of unauthorized films and TV series.

In June 2020, at the request of the authorities, ISPs imposed site-blocking actions on Phimmoi.net and many other infringing sites. However, the blocking attempts were recognized as little more than a temporary solution, as Phimmoi immediately came back under several new domain names such as phimmoizz.net, phimmoizzz.net, phimmoiplus.net, etc. Hence, dealing with digital content copyright infringement has remained an arduous and troublesome issue in Vietnam.

It was a notable development, then, when on August 19, 2021, the Ho Chi Minh City Police Investigation Department shared that they are investigating a case of copyright and related rights infringement under the decision to prosecute a criminal case related to the website Phimmoi.net. Accordingly, the police have identified and summoned the Vietnamese developers and operators of Phimmoi, and are now in the process of investigating and verifying further evidence to consolidate the case. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time Vietnam’s police force has prosecuted a case of copyright infringement.

As stipulated in Article 225 of the 2015 Criminal Code (as amended in 2017), any person who, without the consent of the holders of copyrights and relevant rights, deliberately commits the acts of (i) making copies of works, video recordings or audio recordings, and/or (ii) making copies of works, video recordings or audio recordings publicly available, which infringe upon copyrights and relevant rights protected in Vietnam would be subject to, depending on the nature of the infringement, a monetary fine of up to VND 1 billion (USD 43,800), or up to three years’ community sentence, or up to three years’ imprisonment; and would also be prohibited from holding certain positions or doing certain work for one to five years. These are the most serious criminal penalties available for intellectual property violations of an individual in Vietnam, and have not yet been tested in court.

Overall, this is a significantly positive signal from Vietnam’s authorities in combating online movie piracy, especially in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns, when Phimmoi and similar sites have been seeing new peaks in visitor traffic. If this can be the first criminal case related to copyright in Vietnam, it will create a huge impact on other infringers, making them realize the potential consequences of their infringing acts, and will also help raise the Vietnamese public’s awareness of online copyright infringement to better preserve the creative works of filmmakers and IP right owners.