Pirates feel the pressure

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2007, 12:00am

Hong Kong set a milestone in the global crusade against copyright infringement with a court ruling that sent an internet user to jail for uploading Hollywood movies.

In 2005, Chan Nai-ming was handed a three-month jail term for uploading three films to be shared among BitTorrent users. The sentence earned Chan the dubious honour of being the first person in the world to be convicted of the crime.

Earlier this month, the Court of Final Appeal dismissed Chan's appeal against his conviction under the Copyright Act.

Over the past decade, the government has strengthened efforts to protect intellectual property rights.

Hong Kong used to be a haven for pirates. Shops selling counterfeit CDs, handbag knockoffs and pirated software dotted underground shopping arcades. Street vendors sold their fake products in broad daylight, with little interference from law-enforcement officers.

With rising awareness of copyright protection and mounting pressure to stem the flow of fakes, Hong Kong has stiffened its resolve to rid the city of pirated goods.

Following a series of raids by the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department, the number of shops selling counterfeit goods has plummeted from more than 1,000 in 1998 to a few dozens now.

Last year, the High Court made it compulsory for internet service providers to reveal the personal particulars of music copyright infringers on the Web.

The landmark ruling was seen as a victory for the local music industry, which has been hard hit by sagging album sales and an abundant supply of pirated CDs.

While Hong Kong's anti-piracy squads have largely pushed counterfeiters off the streets, the scourge is still sweeping the mainland.

Hollywood blockbusters are available in mainland DVD shops at the same time as their global premieres. Fake luxury handbags and watches can be bought at knockdown prices on most street corners, with little intervention by police.

Recently, a Beijing amusement park parading Disney cartoon look-alikes hit the headlines.

Boasting cartoon figures resembling Disney and Sanrio characters, the theme park drew criticism from the foreign media.

But the park management insisted that their Mickey Mouse look-alike was 'a big-eared cat'.

A Japanese TV station broadcast images of Chinese children hugging the copycat cartoon figures.

The video, which was posted on YouTube, embarrassed the Chinese government prior to a visit by Vice-Premier Wu Yi to Washington to address trade and copyright protection issues.

The blatant rip-off of foreign brand names and logos has angered multinational companies.

In 2005, a cafe in Shanghai was ordered to change its name and logo after a complaint by US coffee giant Starbucks.

Named Xingbake (Chinese translation of Starbucks) and sporting a green logo, the coffee shop was ordered to pay damages to Starbucks.

While the case highlighted the fact that the mainland government is taking intellectual property more seriously, a lack of copyright awareness among Chinese businessmen means the battle to weed out piracy is far from over.

Frequent copyright abuse also makes it difficult for foreigners to do business in China.

US officials say rampant piracy is one of the main reasons for their country's massive trade deficit with China.

Counterfeiters cost American industries billions of dollars in lost sales annually.

Despite China's rising economic and diplomatic clout, the mainland government is embarrassed by the ubiquitous fake goods.

The Chinese authorities should set aside more resources to educate the public on intellectual property rights.

A product, be it a movie, song or handbag, is the result of its creator's hard work. Apart from depriving copyright owners of their due rewards, piracy is also about blatant disregard for originality and innovation.

Only when mainlanders give due respect to other people's work would China truly become the global giant it aspires to be.

Think about:

1. Have you ever used pirated material? Why?

2. What can the Chinese government do to solve the problem of rampant piracy on the mainland?

3. Besides the uploaders, should downloaders of copyright material be prosecuted?

4. Users of pirated material say the genuine products are too expensive. Is this a valid reason for copyright infringement?

Don't fall foul of copyright laws

The ease with which we can get copyright material without approval makes us forget that we are committing a crime. Here are some of the activities that infringe copyright laws:

1. Copying a reference book to save money.

2. Uploading your favourite songs onto the internet to share with your friends.

3. Incorporating your favourite song into your blog and playing it as background music.

4. Copying a movie from the internet to share it with your friends