Merely watching shows on Web should be made illegal: paper Unauthorised viewing of copyrighted works on the internet using a process called streaming would become a criminal offence in proposals released in a Legislative Council paper last night. That would mean watching Premier League soccer matches streamed live on the Web would be against the law because no one is licensed to stream matches to Hong Kong computer users. Streaming refers to techology that places data - usually multimedia such as sports matches, movies and television series - on the internet, where it is continuously 'streamed' and can be viewed at any time. Unlike downloading, users are generally unable to obtain a complete copy after streaming. But downloading unauthorised movies, music or even soccer matches using peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing technology will not be criminalised even though copyright owners can sue through civil actions. And converting CDs into MP3 files for listening on a portable player like an iPod will be formally legalised - which means CD shops could offer format-switching services in future. These proposals come after months of debate in a government consultation that ended in April last year, in which more than 600 submissions were received. The paper said streaming - even when it's not for commercial purposes - should be criminalised. Streaming can deliver better performance when more clients stream at the same time. A government source said the technology was one of the most common forms of copyright infringement that severely harmed the interests of owners. 'It is also a kind of uploading,' said the source, explaining the rationale for criminalisation. But another heavily debated issue - criminalisation of unauthorised downloading - would remain unchanged, as it was described as 'highly controversial'. The paper noted the existing law did not criminalise users of pirated products, and it would require 'very strong justifications to introduce an asymmetric legal regime solely for the sake of internet piracy'. Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association chairman York Mok Sui-wah said it was debatable whether the source of unauthorised streaming would be criminally liable, and that it was impossible to transfer liability to end users. 'End users will not have a clue of whether the content they stream is authorised or not,' said Mr Mok. 'If the proposal becomes law, it is going too far. And if the streaming source comes from overseas, there is nothing Hong Kong can do even if we have such a law.' Woody Tsung Wan-chi, chief executive of the Hong Kong Kowloon and New Territories Motion Picture Industry Association, believed problems would be created by making streaming illegal. 'In the future, with the increase in bandwidth, the quality of streaming can be as high as DVD quality, and downloading will no longer be necessary,' said Mr Tsung. 'The law must state the liability for end users clearly but, since there's still time for discussion, the public doesn't need to worry too much just yet.' Ricky Fung Tim-chee, chief executive of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (Hong Kong Group), said the government was still avoiding the issue of compelling internet service providers to co-operate with the content industry.