A campaign was launched in mid - Mayby the Copyright Office of Vietnam, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and Business Software Alliance to raise business and consumer awareness towards software copyright.

The campaign will focus on educating computer shops on software piracy issues.

Computer shops are the top priority since many personal computers are preloaded with unlicensed software, Copyright Office director general Vu Manh Chu told a recent press briefing in Hanoi.

The campaign will aim to avert software piracy, by communicating to software retailers the need to respect copyright, as well as the potential consequences of software infringement.

This campaign was kicked off initially in Hanoi and HCM City, intensifying the pressure on IT shops not to sell and install unlicensed software on computers before selling them to customers. Preinstalling illegal software on new computers encourages buyers to continue to use unlicensed software in the future. Many of these customers also have no idea that they have bought a computer preloaded with unlicensed software.

So far this year, inspection teams have raided 21 businesses across the country, mostly in Hanoi and HCM City. They conducted a total of 111 raids last year, finding an infringement rate of 97-98 percent, according to the inspectorate of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Vietnamese law currently provides that violators of copyright are subject to a fine of 50-500 million VND (2,400-24,000 USD).

"The goal of reducing software piracy among consumers can only be achieved in a piecemeal fashion," said the ministry's deputy chief inspector, Pham Xuan Phuc. "The first step is to educate software retailers and encourage them to respect copyright. If them refuse to comply voluntarily, then the second or third step must occur, including such drastic measures as audits and rigorous penalties."

While the software piracy rate in Vietnam has fallen from 92 percent in 2004 to 85 percent in 2009, it remains high, according to the Copyright Office.

According to market research firm IDC, computer sales rose 41 percent during the period, with many preloaded with unlicensed software – a key factor in the high rate of software piracy in Vietnam. A recent study commissioned by IDC predicted that, if they software piracy dropped 10 percent over the next four years, the software industry would gain 623 million USD in sales.

"Intellectual property rights violation in Vietnam is a pressing issue, causing great dissatisfaction amongst innovators, enterprises and consumers and adversely affecting innovation and the investment climate and discouraging foreign investment in Vietnam," said director general Chu.

"Software infringement is a pressing concern for investors, even though Vietnamese intellectual property law is rather similar to the international legal system and meets international standards. If Vietnam can reduce the rate of infringement rate to the regional average, it will become a more favoured investment destination and the reputation and opportunities of Vietnamese enterprises will also be broadened."

Nguyen Tu Quang, CEO of BKIS, said using legal software provides undeniable benefits to corporate users, as well as to software developers. A strong respect for intellectual property rights will also help the nation move up the value-chain from being a low added-value manufacturing centre towards a more hi-tech economy.

The CEO of software publisher Lac Viet Co Ha Than, said that better software copyright enforcement will have an immediate effect on company performance.

Lac Viet's dictionary software alone generated more than 10 billion VND (476,000 USD) in sales last year through licence agreements with telephone and computer manufacturers. However, Lac Viet estimated that it still lost an estimated 58 billion VND (2.9 million USD) to piracy last year.

Domestic software businesses will benefit significantly from a more robust intellectual property rights regime, which will allow them more profits to re-invest in research and development, said Than./.