Bar sued over satellite signal piracy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 May, 2005, 12:00am

After venues ignore warnings not to screen soccer matches on the cheap, the pay-TV industry decides to get tough

A bar in Kowloon may face a fine of tens of thousand of dollars under an aggressive new crackdown on pubs and clubs screening soccer matches using an illegal satellite feed.

The bar - which ignored repeated warnings to stop screening soccer matches on ESPN using the satellite feed from Thai pay-TV operator UBC - is the first to be taken to the High Court by the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia. The organisation estimates that signal piracy costs pay-TV operators in Hong Kong more than $200 million a year.

More than 100 letters are being sent to other venues known to be taking the satellite feed from UBC and other networks not authorised in Hong Kong, warning that they could be the next to face legal action.

The crackdown comes after the association's warnings on signal piracy were ignored by hundreds of bars and pubs screening English Premiership matches and Uefa Champions League games, including last Thursday's final between Liverpool and AC Milan.

The association is seeking damages running to tens of thousands of dollars and an injunction prohibiting the bar, which it declined to name, from screening any further matches using the UBC feed.

The UBC feed is only authorised within Thailand although the signal can be picked up in Hong Kong, but hundreds of venues dodge hefty iCable subscriptions by taking the UBC feed at domestic user rates of just a few hundred dollars a month.

Other satellite feeds offered to venues and individual subscribers at low cost by underground dealers are MultiChoice of South Africa and Dream of the Philippines.

Association chief executive Simon Twiston Davies said: 'Bars are continuing to do it because they want the screen sports on the cheap, and this is not acceptable.

'If I went into a bar in Hong Kong, ordered a beer and then gave them $5 for it, I'd be had up [arrested]. That's the same thing as trying to get pay-TV on the cheap.'

Mr Twiston Davies said although many bars had responded positively to warning letters, many others were flagrantly ignoring the warning. 'I think there is a certain complacency out there,' he said.

He said the association wanted to see Hong Kong retain its position as a broadcasting hub where intellectual property rights were respected, but that its status was compromised by widespread satellite signal piracy.

Association chairman Marcel Fenez said: 'Some bars refuse to cease these activities despite being warned several times; we have no choice but to take the matter to the courts.'

Bars have complained in the past that operators such as iCable charge too much for public screenings and that many top sporting events available on overseas satellite services are not included in the packages offered in Hong Kong.

The association has taken legal action against five satellite TV dealers selling equipment to pick up unauthorised signals but has not until now taken action against bars using the systems.