Painter Le Linh affirmed that he alone sketched both the paintings and comics, while Ms. Hanh said she was the one who came up with the idea and worked together with the painter...
In the morning of February 18, 2019, the People's Court of District 1, Ho Chi Minh City returned a first-instance verdict to recognize painter Le Linh as the only author of the "Thần đồng đất Việt " (“Infant Prodigies of Viet country") comics. This case of copyright ownership dispute has lasted for 12 years, attracted public interest, especially the publishing community.
Representing the plaintiff, painter Le Linh, is lawyer Truong Thi Thu Hong from Pham & Associate law office.
On July 16, 2019 Ho Chi Minh City People's Court heard the appeal of the co-defendant Phan Thi company and Ms. Phan Thi My Hanh against the first instance verdict declaring painter Le Linh is the only author of the “Infant Prodigies of Viet country" comics.
In their appeal the defendants said that the first instance court has seriously violated the procedure and improperly handled the case, that the court should have summoned persons with related rights and obligations such as Copyright Office of Vietnam (COV) or published the concerned documents and evidence due to their absence.
The defendants further said that at the first instance trial painter Le Linh could not describe the original idea of the comics so that he could claim to be the author of the characters “Trạng tí, Sửu ẹo, Dần béo và Cả mẹo” (“Great Ti, Twisty Dan, Fatty Dan and Big Tricker) in the “Infant Prodigies of Viet country" comics. With regard to making derivative works, as painter Le Linh is a contract-employee of Phan Thi company, so all property rights that the painter has created are assigned to the company, so the company is entitled to make a derivative work without the painter’s consent.
The defendants’ representative also disagreed with the first-instance verdict that the act of making derivative works by Phan Thi company was “violating the integrity of the work" but did not determine how the integrity of the work was violated. Accordingly, if the first instance verdict were implemented, it may make foreign investors in the areas of publishing and film-production worried because they may think that Vietnamese law encourages employees to take advantage of moral rights to hinder the company's business.
Because of this, the defendant asked the Appellate Trial Panel to refute all the plaintiff’s' lawsuit claims and accept the defendant's request to recognize Ms.Hanh is a co-author and Phan Thi Company is allowed to exploit the characters of the comics.
For his part, painter Le Linh said the first instance verdict is reasonable, so the court should maintain the verdict. He confirmed that in the document he sent to COV there was not any line recognizing Ms. Hanh as a co-author. From ideas to sketches, all were done by himself and he provided the court with the sketches.
According to painter Le Linh, moral rights are not allowed to be transferred. Phan Thi company, as being the owner of the work, has the right to make derivative works based on the original image. However, in this case she made derivative works different from the original image, so she should have got his consent.
Back to the history of the lawsuit, the first volume of the “Thần đồng đất Việt” comics, created by painter Le Linh and Phan Thi Company, was launched in 2002. From 2002 to 2005 painter Le Linh drew the characters of the comics. After volume no.78 of this comics, he stopped his composing. The subsequent volumes were performed by other artists in collaboration with Phan Thi company. Later, painter Le Linh found that in the copyright registration dossier of this comics, Ms. My Hanh recorded her name as co-author with painter Le Linh.
In 2007, painter Le Linh sued Ms. Hanh and Phan Thi Company to court for recognizing him as the only author of the series of the comics, asking Phan Thi company not to compose variations of the comics characters.
In February 2019, after many days of trial and deliberation, People's Court of District 1 declared painter Le Linh is the only author of the “Thần đồng đất Việt” series and 4 characters, namely “Trạng tí, Sửu ẹo, Dần béo và Cả mẹo” in the comics. The court also forced Phan Thi company to stop composing variations of the characters; to apologize publicly to painter Le Linh in three consecutive editions of newspapers and have obligation to pay VND 15 million of lawyer fee to the lawyer of paiter Le Linh.
According to the Trial Panel, during their partnership, Phan Thi company had paid royalties to painter Le Linh, thereby recognized him as the author of the comics. The Court rejected Ms. Hanh's argument that she had envisioned the characters in the comics and guided painter Linh to re-draw, so she must be a co-author because "the idea not expressed materially shall not be protected by law".
After many hours of hearing nervous argument and response by the two sides, the Trial Panel said to terminate the inquiry and argument session.
The previously announced that the trial will debate on July 29, 2019 has been postponed and the date of reopening has not been determined.