PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 August, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 August, 1999, 12:00am

IT is hard to know where to begin when responding to Tim Hamlett's inaccurate and irresponsible column 'US cheek over laying down law,' (South China Morning Post, August 8).

The column contained information that is wrong on facts and wrong on law. Mr Hamlett apparently made no attempt to find out the truth about either. His frivolous treatment of a serious subject demeans both the efforts of the United States and Hong Kong to stop intellectual property rights (IPR) theft. He challenges us to respond, and so we are.

Mr Hamlett's column publicised the claim that under US law, no copyright exists for any foreign film that has not yet been released in the country. He admits his research consisted of checking a single site on the World Wide Web - a proprietor's site attempting to convince potential shoppers that his e-sale of movies is legitimate. Relying on that sole source, Mr Hamlett said it seemed that, under US law, proprietors could sell foreign films with no obligation to reimburse or inform the film-makers.

This is wrong.

Any motion picture created in or first published in any of the 140 countries or territories that are members of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works is automatically protected by copyright in the US. Hong Kong works are protected under Hong Kong's membership in the Berne Convention. If the film is 'dubbed' into English, that version and the original are equally protected.

Furthermore, copyright infringement is both a civil and criminal offence in the US.

Ordinary infringers are subject to substantial actual and statutory damages. Wilful infringers (pirates) are subject both to damages and to criminal sanctions. Video pirates as well as other copyright pirates are regularly subject to FBI investigation and subsequent criminal punishment. As research would have shown, Title 18, US Code, sections 2318 and 2319, and Title 17 US Code section 509 provide more specific criminal penalties, including jail terms.

So there is no case of the US 'exercising [its] God-given right to exploit foreigners', as he snidely asserts.

In addition, he takes several jabs at the role of the American Consulate. He portrays us as 'drafting Hong Kong legislation' on IPR enforcement. We are unsure where he got that idea, but it might have been from a June 22 article in the South China Morning Post in which the reporter may have spoken to someone we do not know, but also named a consulate officer he never actually spoke to. Had Mr Hamlett spoken with us, we would have told him that we have discussed a wide range of options for fighting piracy - many put forward by industry - but the essential goal is to curb piracy by whatever methods the Hong Kong Government chooses.

The Hong Kong Government is battling piracy because without an effective IPR protection programme, neither art nor technology can develop or flourish in Hong Kong. Elimination of piracy is also essential to Hong Kong's goal of becoming an international hi-tech hub. It is precisely because the US has strong IPR protection that these industries are flourishing there and why the US can offer perspectives useful to Hong Kong.

If the Web site Mr Hamlett looked at is operated by a pirate, US authorities will take appropriate action. Tell us the name of the site, and we will report it.

Normally, we enjoy reading Mr Hamlett's column. Perhaps he could lend his talents to writing an article educating about the long-term damages of piracy.

Robert Laing Public Affairs Officer US Consulate General Hong Kong