HK firms part of a world video-game piracy racket

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 December, 2004, 12:00am

Nintendo says it is losing millions of dollars

Some Hong Kong companies are part of an international piracy ring that has cost Japanese video-game maker Nintendo tens of millions of dollars and apparently caught local authorities napping.

Nintendo of America has expressed new concerns about Hong Kong's protection of intellectual property rights, after an investigation revealed local companies are selling game consoles around the world that run pirated versions of Nintendo's classic games.

The companies involved operate openly, despite being monitored by both customs officials and the Hong Kong Police, a Sunday Morning Post investigation has revealed.

'It is a serious problem. There has been a surge of these [pirated consoles] because of the demand for Nintendo's classic games,' said Jodi Daugherty, anti-piracy director at Nintendo of America.

In the United States, Nintendo recently won a court restraining order after it was found that the mainland-built consoles were being sold in American malls.

Marketed in the US under the name 'Power Player', they are being built by Hong Kong-registered Powerking International Development, and sold out of their Tsim Sha Tsui office.

Shipped from Shenzhen, they are essentially miniaturised versions of older game consoles that contain several games, according to Nintendo.

Other locally registered companies are also selling small game consoles marketed under names such as 'Powerstation' and 'Game Box', which resemble video-game systems such as Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox.

They are taking advantage of a nostalgic revival in retro video games, such as Donkey Kong and Super Mario Brothers, produced in the early 1980s by companies like Nintendo and Atari.

Tam Yiu-keung, head of the Customs and Excise Department's intellectual property investigation bureau, admitted that officials were unaware of the problem.

'In the [absence of] of any information from the corporate owner, we did not know that copyright was being infringed,' he said. Nintendo claims it has provided the necessary information. Mr Tam said the bureau would contact Nintendo's Hong Kong branch to begin investigations.

Hong Kong used to be a hotbed of software piracy, thanks to such landmarks as the Golden Arcade Computer Centre in Shamshuipo, which gained notoriety by openly selling pirated software in the 1990s. It has been taken off a watch list of piracy black spots but remains under scrutiny.

The American restraining order, issued by the Western Washington District Court, prohibits retailers from selling products that look like Nintendo's game controllers from its older Nintendo 64 game console, which can be plugged directly into televisions to play games.