Movie-hire cost may rise in rights row

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 January, 2003, 12:00am

The cost of hiring a movie could soar if the Hong Kong film industry succeeds in a bid to introduce rental rights and charge stores up to double the price for discs.

The ailing industry will press the Commerce, Industry and Technology Bureau this month to amend the Copyright Ordinance to allow it to charge more for discs used for commercial purposes.

Now, all locally made productions are sold for a standard price, irrespective of their future use.

News of the move was met with a mixture of anxiety and anger by the owners of renting outlets, some of whom threatened to boycott local films altogether if the price rise was too drastic.

The chief executive of the Hong Kong, Kowloon and New Territories Motion Picture Industry Association, Woody Tsung Wan-chi, said: 'Rental rights do not exist in Hong Kong. The shops buy discs from off the streets and rent the movies out without informing the film companies.

'Some shops charge a set fee of $30 for unlimited viewing. It's ridiculous that you can pay the price of one VCD and watch it 20 times.'

Previously the film industry made a lot of money selling productions exclusively to rental shops, when the films were not available on the streets.

But Mr Tsung pointed out that the industry had suffered as distributors were no longer the exclusive suppliers of discs.

'In the past the rental market was an important window for us. Now that it's gone we are looking at fighting to get it back,' Mr Tsung said.

'We are basically being taken advantage of. If we want the film industry to improve, then we must fix this problem. Nobody will want to invest in a movie if they just get ripped off.'

But rental store owners fear for their own profits and say they are prepared to boycott locally made films.

The owner of one store in Tin Hau, which rents new-release DVDs and VCDs for $16 and $7 respectively, and old releases for $12 and $5, said Hong Kong movies cost about half the price of foreign films to buy.

'Of course we are worried about our business. Our rental prices will go up accordingly,' the owner said. 'Ultimately, the costs will have to be absorbed by our customers.'

He said that since Chinese and foreign films were rented out for the same price, the store would have to raise the rental cost of all movies, otherwise local films would become less appealing to rent.

Another rental shop in North Point, which has operated for a decade, said higher costs could drive it out of business. The shopowner said business had gone down by 50 per cent in the past two years.

He said that if the increase was within 10 per cent he could still bear the costs. However, he threatened to stop buying local movies if the discs doubled in price.

'We cannot afford to increase prices because nobody will rent our discs. The only thing we can do is to stop buying local movies,' the owner said.

'The number of people renting local movies has gone down in recent years anyway. The quality is so bad that people don't rent them anymore unless the movie has won an award or something.'

Michael Wong, director of marketing at chain store Blockbuster, said he was unaware of the industry proposals and that nobody had approached the chain. It would decide on a course of action when it had more concrete information.

Mr Tsung said film distributors had already begun talks with the big film rental chains to work out an arrangement but legislation was essential to protect the industry from further abuses.

He added that if rental rights legislation was introduced, the movie industry would be able to monitor the number of stores and get a better idea of how many people watched its films.




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