Discordant notes strike singing contest again

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Two contestants from team Hong Nhung sing Chay Mua during the Battle Round of The Voice Vietnam June 30, prompting a singer to come up accusing the show of ignoring his exclusive right in performing the song

After a first season riddled with scandals including the use of pirated songs, The Voice Vietnam sought to make a fresh start this year, bringing in three new coaches, retaining only one from the previous reason.

The local adaptation of the American reality music show, which last year saw an arranged result scandal followed by a teary public apology by its musical producer (who has been retained), has in fact drawn less criticism than last year, thanks mostly to the two new female coaches, Hong Nhung and My Linh, who are long-established, uncontroversial names and widely regarded as national divas.

Its contestants have also learned to choose more Vietnamese songs, after their counterparts last year were slammed for choosing mostly English songs despite the show being called Giong Hat Viet (Vietnamese singing voice).

While some people then expressed sympathy that the wannabes were obsessed with a Universal contract at the end of the road, others made an online video, putting together scenes of a contestant singing Britney Spears' Everytime and the pop princess frowning, screaming, and saying a lot of NOs at her X-Factor judging desk.

So, for all intents and purposes, things were looking distinctly better this year.

However, after the first night of the Battle Round on June 30 where pairs trained by each coach sing a duet for their coach to choose one of them, the second edition went into scandal mode again. 

Hong Nhung put two of her girls together for performing Chay Mua (Running from the rain), prompting Nguyen Dinh Thanh Tam, winner of another national singing contest (Sao Mai Diem Hen) in 2012, to accuse the program of not telling him about using a song that belongs to him.

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"Chay Mua is my song. I need nothing more than a request from the program to use my song. But I heard nothing," Tam said in a post on his Facebook page.

He said he has witnessed many backstage arguments over song copyrights when he was a contestant, and that he is willing to let others use his songs, but the organizers should have at least talked to him.

"It's like you run into another person's home and use their things without asking."

Tam received both supporting comments and criticism. His critics said the song had not been used for a commercial purpose and he was making a big deal of something trivial.

He has since deleted the post, though he told news website VietNamNet that he "felt sad at being called petty."

He said he had bought the copyright for the song last April while releasing a single and a musical video of it, and also announced the ownership at a press briefing in Ho Chi Minh City.

Song writer Pham Toan Thang confirmed that he had sold the copyright to the performer for two years. He said he himself had heard nothing from the show organizers.

A source from Vietnam Center for Protection of Music Copyright also said that Tam owns the unique right to perform the song publicly.

Thang said he could understand Tam's feelings, but suggested that he could let that go as the infringement happened at a game show, not a professional performance.

He also told Thanh Nien the organizers might be "ruining the contestants' future career" by letting them think that it's okay to use others' songs without asking for permission.

Coach Hong Nhung said she had informed the organizers of her song choice and that the latter has to take responsibility for related legal matters. The organizers have said they are reviewing the case and will make an official response soon.

Violations are the norm

Established people in the industry said young singers are not accustomed to copyright issues and they tend to sing whatever songs they like. Hong Nhung told An Ninh Thu Do that Tam, the one making all the complaints, once used her exclusive song in his album, but she did not bother about it.

They said the use of pirated songs has been common practice in the music industry, in game shows in particular with both organizers and participants paying no regard to copyright rules.

Some even said that violations happen every day if songs that have been criticized for imitating Japanese, Korean or Chinese songs are included.

Van Hoa (Culture) Online, a publication of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said in a report last week that The Voice Vietnam has become "hot" again after it used a song without permission. 

During the show's blind auditions (where coaches first listen to contestants without seeing them) last year, Bui Anh Tuan sang a song that had been written for a movie exclusively and never released publicly.

Tuan had to negotiate with its author to keep things quiet, but he repeated the violation last April at a bar in Ho Chi Minh City by performing a song also by Thang who had sold its use to another singer.

A source from Vietnam Television, which broadcasts The Voice, told local media during Tuan's incident that it pays copyrights fees regularly for any song used, according to the law, via the music copyright center.

But many affected artists have said they have not made the center their official representative, so they have not gone to collect their dues after being called to do so. They said more than the money, they need respect from the industry.

Vietnam's Copyrights Law also states that the use of a copyright work should not affect normal use by its owners or authors.

The Voice Vietnam is not the only singing contest that has run into copyrights problems.

Uyen Linh, 2010 winner of Vietnam Idol, the local adaptation of American Idol, performed Duong Cong (Curves) several times during the contest, and drew flak when she continued using the song, which had been sold to singer Thu Minh, in commercial performances later.

Common as copyright violations are, only Dam Vinh Hung, coach with The Voice Vietnam for two successive years, is having to face serious consequences. He is being sued by a songwriter for changing the names of a song and its author for use in a recent album.

Hung says he had bought the use of the song from songwriter Truong Tan Huy, but a less-known songwriter Nguyen Truong Nhan showed up last April saying he is the song's author.

Nhan said he has filed a lawsuit after many attempts to settle the problem personally with Hung failed, and that the complaint was accepted by a Ho Chi Minh City court last May. The music copyright center has confirmed Nhan's authorship with a post from its archive.

In other cases, the affected parties have only stopped at making complaints to local media.

Songwriter Thang said he does not believe much in the implementation of copyright laws.

"We victims will end up caught in noisy scandals for nothing."

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