Pirated books: Struggling to find a solution

Development of printing technology has facilitated the publishing of books in a massive number. As the result, millions interesting and helpful works have been conveyed to readers all over the world. Publishing is also a lucrative industry without extremely high starting capital if publishers can select titles that are of public interest. Taking such advantage, many individuals or companies attempt to find ways to pirate famous books. Notably, this crime has a tendency to increase in scale and complexity, and in some cases pirated books are even publicly offered on social networks.

Counterfeit books are disguised so sophisticatedly that even publishers have to admit that they cannot discern. In addition to a considerably cheaper price compared to that of real books, the apathy of a part of readers in Vietnam is also a cause leading to a market is rife with fake books. The reason for this attitude is that pirated books, in fact, still fulfil reading demand of and it is believed that people may die because of dirty food, not false books. Without royalties, publishing costs, tax return and being able to skip intermediate stages, piracy is obviously a gold mine.

How authentic books are published?

Pursuant to prevailing intellectual property regulations, publishers must seek approval from authors or owners of the author’s rights. [1] Normally, a publisher and an author will enter into a copyright transfer contract. [2] Then, the publisher must apply for the consent of publishing at the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC). [3] Accordingly, the director (general director) of the publisher issues a decision of publishing after concluding a partnership agreement with printing and release companies.[4]

Book printing can only be processed under a license granted by MIC or a provincial people’s committee. [5] Beside the decision of publishing, the manuscript of the publication must be edited and signed to confirm by the director (general director) of the publisher. [6] Book release can be done by publishers themselves, or by co-operating with eligible facilities.[7] Another important notice is, 10 days before being released, a legal deposit of the publication must be submitted to MIC or a provincial people’s committee as being stipulated by laws. [8]

Briefly speaking, a book must be through a process of four stages before reaching readers.

How to recognize pirated books?

It is recognizable that smuggles usually copy contents in publications which are already released in the market. Then, they make a new cover for the books and print out in a different size compared to originals prior to selling to readers. Additionally, the development of information technology does improves and expedites the searching and downloading electronic works for printing. Moreover, there are several cases where even publishers pirate books of authors with whom they partner up. These publishers print more books than the number they inform to MIC and sell the difference without paying royalties to authors. This misbehavior has been denounced by various writers. Under a contract between a publisher and an author, the total royalty that the author is entitled to receive is on the total number of books is agreed to be released. However, the authors realize that the number of publications sold in the market and in bookstores is far more than that of being consented under the contract. The problem is the authors find it is too difficult to prove the wrongdoing of the publishers because evidence collection in such cases is at high costs and time-wasting, which are sometimes larger than the money they get.  

Practically, there are some ways to find out a pirated book. Most commonly, readers may assess the color and image quality of the book’s cover, printed letters and quality of pages. The cover of counterfeit books is normally presented with pale and less bright colors. The text of these books is badly blurred and printed on black, rough and thin papers. The spines are also so fragile that easily to peel themselves off. More importantly, anti-counterfeiting stamps are barely found on pirated books.

Besides, readers can check on the website https://ppdvn.gov.vn/web/guest/ of the National Publishing Office for more information about a book, namely the publishing confirmation number, deposit or the eligible entity who is granted a license for printing publications. Yet, a drawback of this website is that it is public, which means smuggles are completely able to access and copy that information for their purpose.

Another basis for detecting the authenticity of a book is releasing sources. Without being limited by space and time, the internet significantly pushes promotional activities of goods, particularly books, more than ever with a saving expense. As a result, cyberspace obviously becomes a mecca for book smuggles. Hence, readers should be vigilant to social sites offering well-known books with an unbelievable price, accompanied by attractive promotions and gifts. Above all, readers should not buy books from should sites.

Legal sanctions and punishments: available but not practical and strong enough 

Under the provisions on administrative sanctions in the field of publishing, the act of storing and distributing printed publications, pirated duplicates, counterfeit or concatenated copies of 300 copies or more is only fined up to 30,000,000 VND per violation.[9] In addition, entities conduct the above mentioned acts are forced to return illegal benefits they earn from the violation.[10] It can be seen that, compared to the profits from the illegal book business, the amount of fines is completely disproportionate. Furthermore, it is difficult to determine the amount of illicit profits from this activity because violators will not be able to present valid invoices showing the selling price of their products.

From the perspective of civil law, piracy ruins benefits in association with the exploitation of copyrights of authors themselves, eligible companies doing publishing, printing and distribution of books. As a consequence, this violation can absolutely be sued for non-contractual damages. [11] Nevertheless, figuring out factual damage for claiming a specific compensation in practice is extremely hard. Presently, there is no case law or legal document which is able to provide an accurate and rational measure to determine factual losses from piracy.

In addition to administrative sanctions and civil claims, individuals and organizations that print and distribute pirated books may also be prosecuted for committing the crime relating to publishing activities[12], copyright infringement[13]  (applicable for individuals only) and/or manufacture or trading of counterfeit goods[14] (also applicable for commercial legal persons).


The war against piracy has been occurring for ages and its persistent existence gradually discourages and drains publishers and distributors out. Despite the interference and support of State’s agencies, piracy businesses will sustain their blatant violation and seriously destroy genuine ones. Especially, writers will be demoralized and lose their motivation to keep creating new works because their intellectual property is infringed, and the income from the writing is disproportionate with their dedication. The consequence is the decrease of book’s quality and quantity.

The government and regulatory bodies relating to the publishing industry should enact a new higher monetary sanction to increase the deterrence. Also, laws governing piracy should be more flexible and practical for implementation to effectively protect individuals and organizations whose legitimate rights and interests are exposed to being harm.

If you have any questions or require any additional information, please contact Apolat Legal – An International Law Firm in Viet Nam.

This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for legal advice.


[1] Article 21 Law on Publishing 2012

[2] Article 45, 46 Law on Intellectual property 2005

[3] Article 23 Law on Publishing 2012

[4] Point g) Article 18.1 Law on Publishing 2012

[5] Article 31 and 32.3 Law on Publishing 2012

[6] Point a) Article 33.1 Law on Publishing 2012

[7] Article 36 Law on Publishing 2012

[8] Article 28 Law on Publishing 2012

[9] Point a) Article 27.5 of Decree No. 159/2013/ND-CP

[10] Point b) Article 27.7 of Decree No. 159/2013/ND-CP

[11] Article 584 và 589.2 of the Civil Code 2015

[12] Article 344 of Criminal penalty code 2015 (amended in 2017)

[13] Article 225 of Criminal penalty code 2015 (amended in 2017)

[14] Article 192 of Criminal penalty code 2015 (amended in 2017)

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