Hong Kong bookseller disappearances

Author demands payment from Lee Po after Causeway Bay Books ‘trashed’ 20,000 works

A local author has called on the owner of the controversial bookstore to compensate him for thousands of copies that were allegedly trashed without his consent

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 August, 2016, 11:41pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 August, 2016, 8:48am

A former employee and partner of the Causeway Bay bookstore at the centre of the bookseller controversy has demanded compensation for the alleged disposal of thousands of publications without his consent.

Woo Chih-wai, 75, is seeking payment from Lee Po, the bookstore owner whose disappearance last year, along with four of his publishing colleagues caused a storm in Hong Kong.

They turned up on the ­mainland, where they were ­detained for selling books banned across the border, before four of them were allowed to return home.

Woo said some 20,000 copies of books that he authored had been disposed of since Causeway Bay Books shut down earlier this year.

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“Those were my books distributed by Mighty Current, the parent company of numerous publishers owned by Lee with Causeway Bay Books as its outlet,” Woo said. He claimed that another 200 copies that he published independently had also been cleared without his knowledge.

Woo, whose wife worked as a bookkeeper at Mighty Current’s office in Chai Wan, said his copies were among some 250,000 books that were transported to Shenzhen and disposed of in recent months. “I was not consulted and Lee told me he had the right to dispose of the books as long as they were the property of Mighty Current and that the royalties were only due to me for books sold,” he said, citing his last conversation with Lee on June 16.

Woo, who had published books with Lee’s Culture & Arts Publishing Limited since 2004, said his royalty rate was 16.6 per cent of the retail price.

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“The last cheque Lee gave me in June was for HK$11,000, and that covered sales up to the end of August 2015, so he has yet to pay me royalties for the subsequent months, which would be around HK$60,000, including a new book published in November,” he said.

Woo said he understood a number of other publishers and distributors were also chasing Lee for payment after the bookstore closed in February.

“As far as I know, there were at least 20 publishers and distributors that Lee had to settle payment, and the total amount involved is around HK$3 million.”

Terri Chan, deputy general manager of Cosmos Books confirmed the company had titles in Causeway Bay Books’ inventory.

“We only have a small amount of books there and the money ­involved isn’t that much,” she said.

Lau Tat-man, founder of Ha Fai Yi Publication and past distributed of Woo’s books, said getting rid of books without the author’s consent was not right and proper procedures should be followed in handling surplus copies.

“We either return the unsold books to the author or we handle them in his presence. Otherwise how could they tell if the books were trashed or sold?” Lau said.

Woo said he was now considering taking legal action to recoup the missing royalties and costs.

Lee could not be reached for comment as of press time last night.