Need to step up anti-piracy battle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 February, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 February, 2000, 12:00am

Clandestine trade in pirated items are still thriving in Hong Kong. Customs chiefs have admitted that laws alone are not enough to stop the criminals, as they keep discovering new ways to counter gamemakers' anti-piracy efforts.

Video-game pirates once foiled by Sony PlayStation's attempts to stop the use of fake games on illegally altered consoles have come up with a new encoder which allows the use of both genuine and pirated versions.

A shopkeeper at a Mongkok shopping centre said the new plug-in device could 'cheat the game' by sending new codes.

The game consoles cost $1,000 each, the pirated game discs $20 and the plug-in devices $100.

The Customs and Excise Department's Intellectual Property Investigation Bureau superintendent Chau Win-keung said the department did not focus on equipment that helped buyers use copyright-infringing products.

'Unless the attachment is infringing others' copyright, we cannot prosecute [the shopkeepers] even though they are helping the counterfeiters,' he said.

Mail-order distribution His department seized more CD-ROMs last year compared with 1.72 million in 1998. However, the number of pirated video compact discs (VCDs) seized fell from more than 35 million in 1998 to 9.3 million last year.

Mr Chau said the department succeeded in keeping the pressure on bogus disc-makers following a recent clampdown on the mail-order distribution of pirated games. However, he urged makers of original games to file civil lawsuits against the manu facturers of the plug-in device.

Sony Computer Entertainment was not aware of the latest gadget, the company's legal spokesman Yohei Nagai said, adding it was not necessary to file lawsuits for such cases in Japan.

These products would be ruled illegal under Japanese copyright infringement laws and makers of 'both pirated software and the hardware that helps people use it' would be prosecuted, he said.

Besides video-game piracy, the Customs and Excise Department was also worried by fake VCDs flooding the market.

To crack down on VCD pirates who record films directly from cinemas, the Executive Council has endorsed a proposal under which offenders will face heavy fines.

Under the recommendations, moviegoers will be fined up to $5,000 if they are caught with video-recording equipment in cinemas or public venues.

The council also agreed to impose a maximum fine of $50,000 and a three-month jail term on repeat offenders.

The move won support from the Hong Kong Theatres' Association, which comprises most cinemas.

The association will also confiscate video-recording equipment brought by the customers.

Cinema or venue operators will put up posters and make announcements. Venues can call police if customers refuse to hand over their equipment.

'We do not foresee many such cases. But we still need to amend the law to perfect our enforcement,' Assistant Commissioner of Customs and Excise Vincent Poon Yeung-kwong said.

Customs officials are finding it harder to stop the illegal trade as new gadgets emerge