Pay-TV firms want piracy made a crime

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 September, 2007, 12:00am

Broadcasters urge tougher laws against commercial users of illegal decoders

The pay-TV industry has called for all illicit broadcasting to be made a criminal offence, following a legal settlement last month with local bars over unauthorised feeds of last year's World Cup soccer tournament.

The civil lawsuit had taken more than a year to settle and cost more than HK$2 million, Simon Twiston Davies, chief executive of Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association Asia, said. He said the next step was to go back to the government and demand tightened legislation.

'We will request the Hong Kong government to finally criminalise the public distribution of unauthorised pay-TV services, as the city's intellectual property rights environment cannot sustain much longer seeing people stealing and making a large profit from piracy,' he said.

Five bars in Wan Chai were accused of infringing local broadcaster Cable TV's sole rights to last year's World Cup matches through illegal satellite feeds from other countries.

Three have agreed to pay substantial compensation and publish apology letters, while two still have outstanding copyright claims against them.

The Broadcasting Ordinance states the sale or supply of unauthorised television decoders is a criminal offence and those using them for commercial purposes are subject to criminal sanctions and civil remedies. But Mr Twiston Davies said criminal sanctions were only applied to illegal broadcasting of local pay-TV services, such as Cable TV and PCCW's Now TV.

Only civil remedies applied to those using illegal satellite feeds from Thailand or the Philippines.

A Commerce and Economic Development Bureau spokeswoman said the government was concerned about the issue, but recognised that combating piracy required a public-private partnership.

'Any further legislative exercise to criminalise end-users must be proportional to the harm done by the act, and the government needs to balance enforceability, use of public resources, and intrusiveness in private activities,' she said.

On the problems arising from internet piracy of pay-TV content, Mr Twiston Davies said: 'There is going to be a quality differential between genuine pay-TV services and pirated internet signals. Some of the soccer matches are now broadcast in high definition and the genuine services are far higher than any signals got from the internet. The gap is going to grow as well.'

The government could help with enforcement at the distribution level.

The association estimated the local pay-TV industry lost about US$32 million to piracy last year.

Noel Smyth, managing director of pubs Delaney's and Dublin Jack - which were not involved in the civil suit - said illegal broadcasting was common among bars because of the high cost of subscribing to pay-TV.

He said the commercial subscription fees would be about HK$15,000 a month for Now TV if a bar had three or four televisions.

'Unfortunately there are now two pay-TV channels sharing the sports tournaments and you have to get both installed for sports enthusiasts.'