Undercover agents to trawl New Year fairs for pirates

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 February, 2007, 12:00am

Customs official warns traders of holiday market crackdown

Stallholders at the Lunar New Year fairs will attract not just hordes of shoppers, but undercover customs officers and investigators from companies trying to safeguard their trademarks.

Two of the biggest New Year fairs will begin at Victoria Park and the Convention and Exhibition Centre this week.

As part of its continuing Operation Raptor, the Customs and Excise Department aims to crack down on pirated cartoon items, including Hello Kitty and Disney toys, gadgets and decorations.

Customs divisional commander Samson Chiu Yuk-hung, said officers had been cracking down on counterfeit cartoon goods in the past two months.

'We'll be extending those operations over Lunar New Year,' he said.

Part-time retailers take advantage of the fairs to set up stalls, he said, and urged them not to buy pirated products from wholesalers.

Customs targeted wholesalers in Sham Shui Po last week and arrested 13 people for selling fake goods destined for New Year stalls.

'We have very close co-operation with trademark owners,' Mr Chiu said.

'During our operations, we have trademark owner representatives present to conduct examinations on the spot. The trademark owners will also spot many counterfeit goods and report them to us.

'Disney and Sanrio have a large variety of goods. Some of them are very cheap and sometimes the public cannot tell if they're fake or real,' Mr Chiu said, adding that holographic stickers on Disney's real products were useful guides for the public looking for genuine articles, because few fake items were found to bear the stickers. 'Technology is developing and improving on the mainland for counterfeiters all the time, but normally the counterfeit goods don't bear the hologram. Sometimes, if they do have the hologram, the quality is not good.'

Mr Chui said officers would patrol the New Year fairs and warn stallholders they face prosecution if they sell counterfeit goods.

Customs' efforts appear to have paid off as no counterfeit items were found on sale in stalls at last year's fairs, he said.

The maximum penalty for selling pirated items is HK$500,000 and five years' jail.

A spokeswoman for Disney said it did not use dedicated teams of fake spotters regularly.

'We see piracy as a business model, a model we don't necessarily like, but one that competes the same way we do - price, time to market, quality and distribution,' she said.

'Our business models have to reflect that reality.'

The public should buy Disney items, which all have hologram stickers, from licensed distributors, she said.

One cartoon character widely copied by pirates is Sanrio's ever popular Hello Kitty.

Sanrio Hong Kong's senior manager, Caroline Tsang Shui-kwan, said her company worked closely with customs to stamp out the pirates and staff helped customs officers to identify fakes.