Cablegate: 145,000 Pirated Discs/Tapes Confiscated in Ho Chi Minh
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 001035
STATE FOR EB/TPP/MTA/IPC AND EAP/BCTLV
STATE ALSO PASS USTR BURCKY/ALAVAREZ AND BRYAN
STATE ALSO PASS USPTO FOR URBAN AND FOWLER
STATE ALSO PASS LIBRARY OF CONGRESS FOR TEPP
USDOC FOR LASHLEY AND 4431/MAC/AP/OPB/VLC/HPPHO
E. O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: VM ETRD ECON KIPR IPROP
SUBJECT: 145,000 PIRATED DISCS/TAPES CONFISCATED IN HO CHI MINH
CITY - WHAT'S NEXT?
1. Summary: Ho Chi Minh City's thriving trade in pirated media
took a hit at the end of September when inspectors from the city's
Department of Culture and Information (DCI) raided a large
wholesale/retail shop where they confiscated over one hundred
thousand pirated CDs, DVDs, VCDs, and videotapes. Whether this
will make much of a difference, how the authorities targeted the
shop, and what will happen to the owner remain a mystery. In a
stiff, formal meeting between Econoff and DCI officials, they
offered little context for the raid other than their claim that
this was not an isolated enforcement action. In fact one local
official claimed HCMC authorities have confiscated over 700,000
discs thus far this year. Up to now, however, there has been no
visible impact on other shops selling pirated CDs and DVDs here.
Possible Prosecutions, No One Detained Yet
2. Media reports stated that inspectors from the Ho Chi Minh City
Department of Culture and Information raided an optical media shop
on September 27 and confiscated over 100,000 items. These reports
characterized this raid as the largest in the city's history and
part of an ongoing and concerted campaign to cut local stocks of
pirated discs in half by year's end. Some newspaper reports
stated that the shop had been operating under the protection of a
local police officer that happened to be the brother of the shop
3. Econoff met with Deputy Director Nguyen Thanh Tan of the
Department of Culture and Information to learn more about the
action and praise this recent episode of enforcement. Deputy
Director Tan noted that the raid netted 145,000 pirated units.
The majority of the discs were Vietnamese music CDs rather than
foreign music or movie titles. Inspectors concluded the store was
a retailer of pirated discs, as well as a storage and distribution
center serving other retailers. Mr. Tan said his office turned
over the findings of its investigation to the police. Given the
sheer number of discs and tapes involved, he expects the shop
owner will face prosecution. Local press has reported that,
according to the department's Acting Chief Inspector, those
involved will be brought to trial. At present, however, the shop
owner is free and will remain so pending the police review of the
case and a decision on whether to bring charges. Mr. Tan also
said the authorities are interested in two other individuals
associated with the case, though he did not elaborate on their
relationship to the shop owner.
Why this Shop?
4. Econoff asked Mr. Tan how the shop was identified and
targeted, pointing out that pirated discs are openly sold
throughout HCMC. Tan sidestepped the question, however,
explaining that his office's "Research Section" identified the
shop and placed it under surveillance for over a week, after which
his inspectors conducted the raid. What brought the shop to the
attention of the authorities remains unknown. He denied any
knowledge that local police were protecting the shop.
5. Other press accounts report that the department would target
two production facilities in the future. The Deputy Director,
while agreeing with Econoff that producers were the most important
link in the chain, would not elaborate on any possible new raids.
He did repeatedly emphasize, however, that this raid was not some
isolated incident but just one of many actions carried out by his
inspectors as part of their ongoing campaign against pirated
discs. He even disputed headlines in local papers that dubbed
this raid as the largest to date. Tan said that equally large
hauls of contraband goods had been taken in the past. He seemed
at pains to convey the impression that local authorities are fully
engaged in the effort to control IPR violators and not just
conducting a raid here and there for show. In a follow-up
conversation one DCI official stated that various authorities in
HCMC have confiscated over 700,000 discs thus far this year.
Why Act Alone?
6. The Department of Culture and Information is one of several
local agencies that have authority to work in IPR enforcement.
The DCI is more typically known for its role in licensing all
cultural events and performances as well as publications. These
are the folks that censor publications and keep porn and politics
out of the bookshops. Recent press accounts of anti-piracy
activities have referred to Team 814, an inter-agency group
working against piracy in HCMC. Tan listed his organization, the
city's Trade Office, the Market Management Board, tourism
authorities, city police, and the Department of Labor, Invalids
and Social Affairs as members of Team 814. The raid involved
about 10 inspectors from the Culture and Information Service but
no other participants. The Deputy Director did not elaborate on
why that was the case, except to say that they had a small time
window to conduct the raid, thus bringing in other agencies was
7. As for the fate of the confiscated discs, Tan told Econoff
they would be burned or crushed under the wheel of a steamroller
by the end of the month. He added that authorities would destroy
discs from this raid with discs confiscated in other actions,
maybe as many as a million in all. When Econoff told Tan he would
be very interested in attending the destruction of the discs, Tan
chuckled and responded that such events were always televised and
Econoff could watch it on TV.
8. Taking 145,000 pirated discs off the streets of HCMC, while
certainly a positive move, is probably a drop in the bucket, and
pirated CDs and DVDs are still openly sold throughout the city.
Up to now, raids on shops selling illegal discs meant perhaps the
loss of some merchandise, small fines, and a temporary closing.
Most shops operate untouched. If local authorities really want to
stamp out the problem they will need to take aim at bigger fish
and follow through with real penalties.
9. While DCI officials declined to offer much background
information about the raid or their future plans, the local press
has offered fairly broad coverage. Vietnamese newspaper reports
credit the authorities with identifying two production centers and
claim that four or five "giant" suppliers serve the city's disc
shops. If the newspapers are correct, we hope the authorities
will quickly move from "identify" and "suspect" to enforcement
actions. In the most recent case, as with the problem as a whole,
the raids are an important beginning, but more will be needed for
a lasting impact.