Copyright protection, forever a problem

Art copyright infringement is always a burning issue in Vietnam. The copying of famous paintings and using paintings without permission is rampant but no agency is responsible for protecting artists.

At a seminar on art copyright protection in the central city of Da Nang last week, painters and officials complained about and suggested measures to deal with this situation.

Painter Uyen Huy, chairman of the HCM City Art Association, mentioned two things that need to be addressed. Firstly, the organising boards of design contests don’t give back submissions to authors after the contests or they put submissions online when contests are not finished yet, which has lead to the theft of ideas.

Recently, some authors have sued individuals and organisations for copyright violation, including the case of late famous painter Bui Xuan Phai’s family, who initiated legal proceedings against a British auctionee. But Vietnam Art Association did not get involved.

Painter Tran Khanh Chuong, Chairman of the Vietnam Art Association, said: “I didn’t receive any document from the family of late painter Bui Xuan Phai so I only learned of this case from the media. I have also received information from overseas Vietnamese painters that this company often sells fake paintings. But we are not experienced with lawsuits, so if we lose, how can the association pay compensation?”

About the fact that painters don’t know what agency to report to when their paintings are copied, the chairman of the Da Nang Art Association, Nguyen Trong Dung, said: “Art associations don’t have the right to check and fine galleries that are found selling copied paintings. That is the job of the cultural sector but sometimes the cultural sector says this is the job of police or the local authorities. So painters are afraid of denouncing such cases.”

“We have received some complaints about copyright infringement of some members but we are unable to solve these cases because our major function is calling for members to create new artworks,” said Le Quoc Bao, a member of the Vietnam Art Association’s Inspection Board.

Bao said even the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism’s Art-Photography Agency is also powerless. They can only contribute opinions to the Copyright Agency.

“Copyright protection needs to be stipulated in the Law on Art Copyright, otherwise artists don’t know how to deal with it and their copyright is not protected,” Bao said.

Vietnam has the Press Law, the Cinema Law, but it doesn’t have a Law on Art Copyright. Bao said that when the country has that law, there will be an agency specialising in art copyright protection.

At the seminar, many attendants asked the Vietnam Art Association to quickly form the Art Copyright Protection Association and an art verification agency to protect and verify artworks when conflicts happen.

However, painter Tran Khanh Chuong said it is difficult to set up the Art Copyright Protection Association because of lack of funds. “We can’t sell copied paintings that are seized. Copyright royalties are little so there is no money for that association,” he said.

The vice chief of the Copyright Agency under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Vu Ngoc Hoan, said it greatly benefits artists when they register copyrights for their works. Registered artworks will be printed in the agency’s yearbooks and introduced to the public. If disputes happen, authors don’t need to prove that the disputed artworks are theirs.

However, Chuong said that Vietnamese artists don’t pay attention to copyright registration, especially reputed ones. “Some painters are even happy because their paintings are copied,” Chuong said.

Seminar participants said to reduce art copyright violations, it is important to popularise the Law on Intellectual Property among artists and art students. Meanwhile, the state needs to issue laws and documents to protect art copyrights.


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