Customs helps Now TV fleece World Cup viewers

Rather than spend huge sums on enforcing the exclusive rights of Now TV, the government should have used the money to show the games on public broadcaster RTHK

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 4:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 4:01am

Illegal set-top boxes have been around forever, yet customs officers suddenly decided to get off their behinds to raid shops selling the devices at the weekend.

Why the sudden interest? It’s because the Fifa World Cup starts next month.

“With the 2018 Fifa World Cup just around the corner, customs will continue to step up street and internet patrols to curb any form of infringing activity,” a senior customs officer said.

Customs launches set-top box crackdown ahead of Fifa World Cup

But whose rights are those sellers of unauthorised television streaming devices infringing? Oh, it’s Viu TV under PCCW. The ostensibly free TV network is charging an arm and a leg through Now TV for the privilege of watching all those World Cup games in Russia.

My question is, why are taxpayers subsidising valuable customs manpower to protect Viu’s rights rather than those of soccer fans?

Sure, the station is airing 19 games for free, but that’s only if you already have a Now TV subscription. If you want to watch the rest of the games, be prepared to shell out hundreds of extra dollars.

As far as I am concerned, the more people who watch the games, the merrier. It’s called sports promotion, however and whatever methods they use to watch them.

For sure, PCCW and Viu have rights. Let them use their own investigators and lawyers to take alleged pirates to courts. And if they want to be truly nasty, launch civil suits to claim ridiculous amounts of damages against households caught using set-top boxes.

As a taxpayer, I just don’t see why I should pay for their intellectual property rights enforcement.

If you run a small company and you suspect your IP rights have been infringed upon, do you think customs and excise would devote comparable resources to help you enforce your rights? Dream on.

HK$30 billion in illegal World Cup bets expected in Hong Kong

Our government is rich and RTHK is in desperate need of viewers, so it’s a no-brainer the public broadcaster should have picked up the World Cup bill and let everyone watch the games for free.

It would have been great for the government’s public relations; even the opposition with all its soccer fans would welcome the move. It would do wonders for RTHK’s ratings.

With all the advertising potential, it might even recoup some of the money.

But this is a free market with Hong Kong characteristics, and private companies are protected with the full support of law enforcement to overcharge customers.