Large yellow building with blue and white trim (© Alamy)
The Ho Chi Minh City Supreme People's Court (© Alamy)

Millions in potential sales are lost annually to pirated digital content, from movies and TV shows to computer software. Southeast Asia is a hotbed for this kind of activity.

The Motion Picture Association of America (the body that protects the U.S. film industry) has worked alongside the Hanoi Police Department to trace thousands of stolen files to operators in Vietnam’s capital city. However, very few cases end in a conviction because conflicting laws leave prosecutors hamstrung.

“Up until now, there have been almost no criminal copyright infringement prosecutions,” said Evan Williams of the U.S. Department of Justice.

But that could be changing. Following a push by the Vietnamese government to improve enforcement of newly revised intellectual property laws, the U.S. Department of Justice recently trained 120 judges from across the country on intellectual property rights, in particular how to judge a criminal infraction.

“Vietnam’s current IP regulation is quite good,” says Judge Duong Tuyet Mien, who attended training sessions held in Hanoi this October. “But some provisions have not been well defined, leading to difficulty in enforcement.”

Women and men seated and standing for group portrait of workshop attendees (U.S. Consulate Ho Chi Minh City)
Vietnamese judges and experts from the U.S. government gather for intellectual property rights training in Ho Chi Minh City on October 5, 2018. (U.S. Consulate Ho Chi Minh City)

Williams said his goal for the training sessions was to pass along the U.S. method of infringement investigation, which involves people at every stage of a case working together from start to finish.

“Almost every major IP case these days is transnational,” he said, stressing how important it is that investigations not stop at the border, as many in the region do. He says most counterfeiters have a web server in one country, an email server in another country and bank accounts in a third country.

That’s why the training sessions included legal professionals from different jurisdictions, both domestic and international. “Almost all the big cases involve evidence in multiple countries,” Williams said.