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August 29, 2013

Vietnam Says New Internet Decree Good for Business

by Marianne Brown

Vietnam’s controversial internet law is scheduled to take effect on Sunday. Critics say the new rules are aimed at stifling speech online and could discourage businesses from operating in Vietnam. But the government says the measures are aimed at protecting intellectual property and fighting plagiarism.

The decree states that blogs and other social media sites must contain only personal information. It also requires local companies to monitor sites for illegal content. The long list of prohibited activities includes “superstitious practices” and “disparaging the nation's customs and traditions.”

The punishments for violations are still being drafted.

Critics say the measures are vaguely worded and overly broad, signs they say indicate the law is aimed at silencing government critics online.  

"The lawmaking process in Vietnam is often not clear. While consultations with key stakeholders take place, laws sometimes produce unintended consequences that harm Vietnam's business and investment climate,” said Adam Sitkoff, with the American Chamber of Commerce.

Hanoi has responded to the outcry by defending the measures.
 
An article published in Communist party newspaper Nhan Dan on August 8 said that although most Internet users in Vietnam “communicate in a civilized manner,” others use social media to “defame the prestige and honor of others” and “incite hostility to the government.”  The article said therefore it is necessary to “control the Internet by means of laws.”
 
Vietnam lacks legal copyright protections and defenders of the new measures say they are aimed at helping the country’s publishers and software makers.
 
Anh Minh Do, editor of the website Tech in Asia said the law is partly the result of two legal cases.  The first involves news portal Bao Moi, which posted articles from local media onto its site without asking permission. “Newspapers got together and sued Bao Moi, so that’s the newspaper lobbying side,” said Minh.

The other case is Nhac Cua Tui, which means “my music” in Vietnamese.”
 
The domain NCT.VN is a platform for game developers and gamers to share their games online. However, the site attracted controversy earlier this year because many of the games were reportedly pirated.

Minh said restrictions on what content can be re-posted will help protect against piracy. “It’s a basic copyright patent issue. I talk to a few of my friends in the gaming industry. For them it’s good, they have more of a legal precedent for copyright on their games and stuff,” explained Minh.

Vietnam has more than 13 million video game players, and the industry is growing rapidly. Nguyen Tuan Huy is the founder of Emobi Games, one of Vietnam’s foremost game developers. He said although he does not agree with all parts of the law, it has the potential to help the industry. “It’s good because at this moment anything the government does is better than nothing. Three years ago the government didn’t do anything for the gaming industry so we were really in a harsh situation,” he said.

Vietnam is in the midst of negotiations over the U.S.- led free-trade organization, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It is unclear how the new potential restrictions on freedom of speech or the copyright protections could impact those negotiations.

“It’s being negotiated in private so it’s hard to say what Vietnam is going to have to do regarding intellectual property or other issues like that. I think what people do recognize is that of the 12 countries currently negotiating TPP, Vietnam is the least developed and Vietnam is the country with the most work to do,” said Sitkoff.

TPP members are expected to protect other members’ intellectual property. In a written statement to VOA, the U.S. embassy said the Vietnamese government has partially laid the legal foundation for enforcing intellectual property rights, but more must be done to prevent “copyright piracy on a commercial scale.”