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VN digital content firms find home disadvantage   2008-09-22 - Viet Nam News

The sleeping giant of Viet Nam’s digital content industry is becoming more assertive with the Viet Nam Software Association officially accusing the Yahoo! Company of breaching the country’s regulations on online information services.

Policy makers, representatives of Vietnamese companies, the media, and the accused, Yahoo Viet Nam, were present at the conference.

The association last month filed a petition to this effect with the Ministry of Information and Communications.

The struggle by Vietnamese firms for equal treatment with foreign competitors was discussed at a conference held here on Thursday.

Policy makers, representatives of Vietnamese companies, the media, and the accused, Yahoo Viet Nam, were present at the conference.

To highlight the plight of Vietnamese firms, Le Manh Ha, Director of the HCM City’s Department of Information and Communications, employed the image of a person bound firmly to a chair, forced to enviously witness other people passing by freely and doing anything they want.

According to the Viet Nam Software Association (VINASA) and the Viet Nam Game and Digital Content Business Club, since the Yahoo! Company established two representative offices in Ha Noi and HCM City in August 2007, the international company has launched a series of new services targeting the country’s users.

These include applying a Vietnamese interface for Yahoo’s homepage, blog, improving the website Yahoo!Hoi&Dap (Yahoo!Answers), and co-operating with several Vietnamese news organisations to found a Yahoo-based e-newspaper.

However, these activities of Yahoo! haven’t been licensed by the Ministry of Information and Communications, which is a must for all Vietnamese companies functioning in the digital content industry. Therefore, the Vietnamese have singled out Yahoo! as typical of foreign companies who violate local laws with impunity.

"It’s so unfair! If Vietnamese companies were Yahoo!, there would be heavy fines imposed on us or our business would have even been stopped," said Truong Hoai Trang, VINASA deputy chairman.

Although VINASA and Vietnamese enterprise’s argument is logical and understandable, what stated in the law, in fact, only applies to Vietnamese firms, experts note.

Articles 1 and 4 of the Law on Management and Use of Digital Content say that it is illegal for individuals and organisations to launch any news website without the government’s permission, providing that its server is located within Viet Nam’s territory. Yahoo!’s server in Southeast Asia, however, is based in Singapore so to contend that Yahoo! has broken the Vietnamese law is a groundless accusation, according to experts.

During the intensely-debated conference, Vu Minh Tri, Yahoo!’s representative in Viet Nam, tried to deflect blame from his company by pointing out "real causes" of this problem.

"The sole responsibilities of Yahoo!’s two offices in Viet Nam are to carry out trade promotion and research and development activities. The company has Admax, FPT, GapIT and Golden Media Corp, functioning as our four resellers to directly contact customers; and reports have shown that they have always fulfilled their responsibility of paying taxes to the Vietnamese government, he said.

"It’s nonsense to require an international website to ask for permission from the Vietnamese Government just because their content is written in Vietnamese. What would happen if all Vietnamese websites using English interface are forced to obtain licences from the UK or the US governments," asked Tri.

Advocate Bui Quang Nghiem, deputy head of the HCM City’s Lawyers’ Association, concurred with Tri.

Nghiem’s view is that the robust development of information technology within the past 20 years has completely changed Vietnamese society, but legislative bodies and many legal concepts have lagged behind.

"It’s not Yahoo! but the outdated law which should be blamed," said Nghiem, who took the definition of territory in law to clarify his opinion.

"Traditionally, territory is defined physically as land under jurisdiction of a government. The Internet, however, is without any borderline, so it’s obvious that the definition of territory should be understood and applied in another way," the lawyer said.

Director of HCM City’s Department of Information and Communications Le Manh Ha, who represented Vietnamese policy-makers, also found both sides had convincing arguments to support their respective viewpoints. He agreed that the main problem was with the domestic law that is closed and overly strict on Vietnamese companies.

"As Viet Nam integrates further into the global market by joining the World Trade Organisation, we should learn how to adapt ourselves to international laws rather than asking other people to play by our own rules. Only by loosening many strict laws, for instance the law regulating management of digital content, can our digital content industry boost themselves up and become more competitive in the international market," said Ha.

According to Nguyen Tuan Anh, a representative of the Viet Nam’s VinaGame Company, the strict and complex administrative policies imposed on Vietnamese enterprises are making them lose ground to foreign companies on home turf.

"We are not suing Yahoo! or blaming them for tax evasion. We don’t consider Yahoo! as an enemy to be attacked. In fact, we warmly welcome giants in the IT world like Yahoo! because we can learn much from them. We are just using Yahoo! as an example to show the government how unfairly we’re being treated. Vietnamese digital content enterprises need a more open policy to develop well," he said.

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