Customs will seek help from mainland authorities to track down the ringleader of a syndicate selling illegal television boxes which receive local pay-TV broadcasts, including live World Cup matches.
The hunt for the mainland man began after customs officers arrested nine people and seized 41 boxes in a series of raids on Tuesday.
Customs kicked off its investigation of the syndicate after receiving a complaint from local station Now TV in April.
The five men and four women, who have been released on bail, are suspected to be members of the syndicate.
“The boxes could receive more than 300 pay-TV and movie channels in Hong Kong and from overseas,” the head of the department’s intellectual property investigation bureau, Lee Hon-wah, said.
He said he believed the syndicate also sold the boxes in Hong Kong, Canada, the United States and on the mainland.
Describing the operation as sophisticated, he said the syndicate recruited people to sign up with pay-TV stations as subscribers and get the stations’ set-top boxes.
“Through a computer, television signals released from the set-top boxes were uploaded to overseas servers that transmitted the signals to the syndicate’s TV boxes,” he said.
It was the first time such illegal circumvention of technological measures had ben discovered in the city.
The boxes were sold for HK$2,500 including a one-year subscription fee through a stall in Apliu Street, Sham Shui Po.
Lee said the syndicate had been in operation for about six months and more than 100 boxes had been sold in Hong Kong.
As investigations showed the boxes were made on the mainland, customs would seek help from their cross-border counterparts to find the manufacturing plant.
Under the Copyright Ordinance, such activity carries a maximum penalty of a HK$500,000 fine and four years’ jail.
Now TV confirmed that it had filed a complaint to the department about illegal activities relating to unauthorised distribution of its programmes.