When Hollywood sets its sights on something it wants to achieve in the piracy landscape, victory may not come this week or even next year. The MPA has been around for 100 years; it definitely has patience to see out a few more.
In Vietnam, despite changes in the law and visits by high-ranking MPA and ACE representatives, patience will be required to reduce piracy. The world’s largest pirate sites seem to operate freely there and even when giants like Zoro.to and 9anime came under direct pressure from ACE recently, immediate respawning under new domains was hardly conducive to confidence building.
MPA/ACE have enjoyed success, the closure of 2embed is just one example. But with Vietnam-based movie streaming giant Fmovies also announcing a domain switch/minor rebranding to Fmoviesz recently, more progress is needed and in an announcement this week, the authorities reported just that.
1,000 Piracy Websites Blocked
During an anti-piracy seminar held in Hanoi on Tuesday, data compiled by the Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information, a department under the Ministry of Information and Communications revealed that, during the past 12 months, 1,000 copyright-infringing sites were blocked in Vietnam.
The blocking reportedly took place between August 2022 and August 2023, but there’s not much for the MPA to celebrate, at least not in the short term.
It appears that most of the targets were sites offering pirate football streams, not the platforms offering movies, TV shows, manga, and anime that the MPA would like to shut down. Reading between the lines, these blocking efforts are considered a step in the right direction but were probably ineffective overall.
Blocking is 98% Successful Until it Immediately Isn’t
A representative of the state-run Vietnam Digital Copyright Center said that blocking of the 1,000 sites (a closer view reveals that’s actually the number of domains) was carried out in coordination with Vietnamese internet service providers. A similar approach last year allegedly reduced visits to pirate streaming sites by 98%, but general commentary on the scheme tends to undermine that.
Current blocking efforts are described as inconsistent, with some ISPs quickly blocking sites but others taking a much more leisurely approach. Given that sites reportedly switch to new domains in a claimed five to 10 minutes, blocking faces immediate challenges. A football streaming site known as ‘Xoi Lac TV’ is claimed to be the most notorious repeat offender and by ignoring bans and switching domains, it has remained online for around five years.
Pirate Sites Funded By Illegal Advertising
Media reports from 2018 indicate that Xoi Lac TV and many other sites were blocked on copyright grounds. And when 500 sites were reportedly blocked in 2021/22, copyright was again the headline reason.
Indeed, Vietnam already has a site-blocking mechanism in place; a verified complaint from a rightsholder can lead to the Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information (AEBI) instructing an online platform to remove content. If that doesn’t happen within the allocated timeframe, ISPs can be instructed to block the sites. Why that doesn’t happen to more sites more often isn’t clear, but there are other ways pirate sites can find themselves in more immediate trouble.
When football streaming sites are blocked in Vietnam, discussion of illegal betting advertising on the platforms usually appears as part of the discussion. Xoi Lac TV has appeared on lists of domains blocked due to illegal gambling promotions and the government seems very willing to bring those involved to justice.
Late 2022 an expert with Vietnam’s National Cyber Security Center said that the operators of local streaming sites obtain foreign streams, embed their own logos, and then use the content to promote gambling and fraud.
“The general method of these websites is to steal TV copyrights, ‘push’ the search engine optimization (SEO) to the top on Google to attract traffic, and then receive ads for gambling and fraud channels,” the expert said.
Xoi Lac TV streams reportedly promote the gambling game portal Zovip and sports betting sites including 1bet88 and fun88.
Vietnam Faces “Overseas Challenges”
This type of gambling-focused business model is largely absent from the large sites the MPA would like Vietnam to shut down. Whether that helps them to survive is up for debate but based on comments before and during the event on Tuesday, Vietnam isn’t averse to highlighting enforcement difficulties it faces in ‘other’ countries.
Xoi Lac TV is reportedly among around 70 football piracy sites that together generated around 1.5 billion views in 2022/23. However, figures cited by authorities in Vietnam claim that 200 local pirate movie sites only attract 120 million visits per month overall. Fmovies – now known as Fmoviesz – receives around 119.5 million visits each month in its own right.
Traffic estimates aside, Pham Hoang Hai, Director of the Digital Content Copyright Center, notes that all of these sites have something in common; they use foreign domain names and services to hide their identities. It was previously highlighted that when Xoi Lac TV operated from Xoilac.tv, it was difficult to trace its operator due to the domain’s registration in the United States. That wasn’t made any easier by the site allegedly using a U.S. IP address and U.S. hosting.
Blocking or shutting down websites isn’t something to be taken lightly and it appears Vietnam will take its time before deciding how to proceed against the largest pirate platforms. Meanwhile, it’s being reported that the government has been drafting new rules that will compel ISPs to kick citizens off the internet if they share “law-breaking information.”
“The move threatens to throttle web access further in a country where an estimated 1,000 websites, from those of the BBC to Freedom House, are already blocked,” Nikkei reports.