Pay-television pirates have won the latest battle of wits with Cable TV. Now, we await the television company's next move. But it appears to have little room for manoeuvre. The operators of the illicit trade, which allows viewers to watch Cable TV broadcasts at a fraction of the company's rates, have shown a certain ingenuity in overcoming obstacles placed in their way. Cable TV looked to have struck a powerful blow against the pirates in the summer when it switched its transmission code just as the hugely popular Euro 2004 soccer tournament was about to begin. But the retailers in Shamshuipo were swiftly back in action, offering consumers a new, updated decoder card. Cable TV then began changing the transmission code daily, to keep one step ahead of the pirates. Even this has not been sufficient to keep them at bay. As we report today, a new package is being offered on the black market. It includes an unauthorised decoding device that allows the owner to reset the smart card to receive reception. The code to punch in each day is to be found on special websites and hotlines set up for this purpose. Cable TV, as if admitting defeat, stopped the daily changing of codes last weekend. It could be a case of check-mate. Hong Kong's dominant pay-TV supplier says it is considering its options. But the choice is limited. The company has already spent $500 million upgrading its decoders in a bid to beat the pirates. Going through that process again, especially if more advanced technology is used, would be very expensive. And there is no guarantee that it would overcome attempts by the pirates to get round it. What about using the law? Other parts of the world have made it a criminal offence for anyone to use an unauthorised decoder. In Britain, offenders can get up to two years' imprisonment. But these sanctions are not available in Hong Kong. It is only illegal to import, export or to sell or rent unauthorised decoders - not to use them. Previous attempts by the company to have the law extended to cover users of the devices have failed. Such laws would be difficult to police. The idea of officers bursting into people's homes in the hope of finding illicit decoders is not an appealing one. And there would be little public support for it. However, such a step may have to be considered if other measures fail to prevent the illicit trade from flourishing. Civil lawsuits can be brought against users. But in practice, this is difficult to achieve. The problem of pay-TV piracy has been estimated to cost the Hong Kong industry $190 million a year. It also damages our city's international reputation. The pirates are operating openly - and in a well-known location. A crackdown against the illegal retailers might - at least in the short-term - be the best way of thwarting this unattractive side of Hong Kong's entrepreneurial spirit.