Film industry cites uncertainties for opposing 'ripping'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 November, 2009, 12:00am

The film industry has cited uncertainties about movie distribution models as a major reason that it does not want to relax rules on media shifting - changing music or movies from one digital format to another.

The government last week suggested that it amend copyright laws to legalise the common practice of 'ripping' music via a computer from a legitimate CD and converting it to MP3 format - usable on portable players such as iPods.

Piracy concerns increased film industry fears as it was easier to distribute a movie on the internet when it was reformatted to a smaller file size, industry players said.

The government said it would not extend the music amendment to movies for the time being in light of the film industry's concerns. Reformatting a DVD for use on, for example, a PlayStation Portable will remain a civil offence.

Brian Chung Wai-hung, chief executive of Hong Kong Kowloon and New Territories Motion Picture Industry Association, said allowing people to convert movie files could 'disrupt market order'.

'Industry players are trying to get businesses on various media platforms, including watching movies online or on the go, but the market remains undeveloped,' he said.

'And there are debates on whether movies should be downloaded, or viewed by streaming technology. As the future business model remains in the balance, we cannot disrupt the market at present.'

He said it was extremely difficult to illegally distribute a movie in Blu-ray format on the internet because of its huge file size. Blu-ray discs, a common medium for high-definition movies, have a capacity of up to 50 gigabytes.

'But it will pose a piracy risk when users format-shift the movie to poorer picture quality and hence a much smaller size [more easily distributable on the Net],' he said.

An industry veteran admitted it was very difficult for copyright owners to launch legal action against users who format-shifted a movie for private use. 'But once the [legal] exemption is granted, there is no way to get it back,' he said.

Yvonne Choi Ying-pik, permanent secretary for commerce and economic development, told the Legco commerce and industry panel yesterday no overseas jurisdictions gave private users carte blanche to change movie formats.

Australia's copyright laws allowed users to digitise videos from VHS or Betamax format, she said.

'We have to balance the interests between copyright owners and users and we will be following the global trend on the issue,' she told the panel.

A government official familiar with the policy said copying a movie to a portable player was less common in Hong Kong than copying music and the government 'did not see a strong case to be a global pioneer' [in legislation allowing it].

But lawmaker Wong Ting-kwong said media shifting for private use was in fact very common. 'Many people load movies into their smartphones for when they travel,' he said.