Customs officers raid tutoring chain suspected of copyright offences, seize 50,000 pages of notes, 13 photocopiers

Franchise owner and 13 others arrested

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 4:20pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 November, 2016, 12:46am

A Hongkonger who allegedly ran a tutoring chain franchise using notes copied from books was one of 14 people arrested by customs officers this week for violating copyright laws.

The suspect, who is in his 30s, charged franchisees up to HK$200,000 for setting up a private tutorial centre and received between HK$3,000 and HK$10,000 a month from each branch, according to Guy Fong Wing-kai, head of Customs’ Intellectual Property investigation group.

Fong said the business had been in operation for more than a year, and 13 branches had been set up across the city.

Tutoring in Hong Kong has become a lesson in big business

Customs officers began their investigation after receiving a tip-off that a large number of copyright infringing tutorial notes were being handed out to students at the tuition chain, he said.

It is understood that undercover customs officers posing as parents were deployed to the tutorial centres to gather evidence.

After a six-month investigation, officers raided 13 centres a well as the chain’s headquarters on Wednesday and Thursday.

Six men and eight women, aged between 27 and 55, were rounded up. They were the 12 proprietors of the tutorial centres, including the founder, and two employees.

During the operation, more than 50,000 pages of notes, 25 computers and 13 photocopiers were seized. The haul was estimated to be worth about HK$580,000.

“We found more than 3,000 files carrying suspected infringing copies in the computers,” Fong said.

He added that initial investigations showed that the tutorial notes were photocopied illegally from more than 100 books and supplementary exercises.

Without naming the chain, Fong said the centres offered mainly Chinese, English and Mathematics lessons to students from Primary One to Secondary Three across the city.

He said no teachers from the tutorial centres were arrested.

“We believe that the teachers are acting on the directives of the managers or the proprietors of these tutorial centres,” he said.

Fong added that this was their largest operation against tutorial centres over copyright infringement activities in the past five years.

All those arrested have been released on bail pending further investigation. Fong said it was possible that further arrests would be made.

Tutorial spat: Top Hong Kong school issues writ after celebrity tutor quits to join rival

He reminded those in charge of tutorial centres not to produce or distribute copies of copyrighted works without permission.

“Commercial establishments have the responsibility to ascertain that the works are not infringing copies before using and distributing them,” he said.

Under the Copyright Ordinance, any commercial establishment, including tutorial centres, distributing infringing copies of a copyright work in the course of business commits an offence. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of HK$50,000 per infringing copy and imprisonment for four years.

Members of the public may report any suspected infringing activities to the Customs 24-hour hotline 2545 6182.