Jail terms for Hong Kong pirates

Three offenders involved in a Hong Kong piracy syndicate which circumvented pay-TV channels have been sentenced to imprisonment ranging from 21 to 27 months. The case stemmed from action in 2014 by Hong Kong Customs authorities, who raided four residential premises, a warehouse and a commercial electronics retail outlet, arresting nine people and seizing 38 illicit streaming devices (ISD) boxes.

This is the first-ever case in Hong Kong in which charges of “providing circumvention device or service” and “conspiracy to defraud” were applied in successful prosecution against a piracy syndicate circumventing pay-TV channels. Welcoming the ruling, a spokesperson for Customs attributed the successful prosecution to the full support and close co-operation of the copyright owner.

The trio, comprising the 40-year-old syndicate mastermind, his 54-year-old assistant and a 54-year-old stall owner, were charged with “providing circumvention device or service” and “conspiracy to defraud” offences. The syndicate mastermind was sentenced by the District Court to imprisonment of 27 months, and the other two persons were sentenced to 21 months respectively. The sentence is the heaviest penalty ever for Internet piracy in Hong Kong.

The spokesperson described the rulings and sentences as a strong deterrent to similar piracy activities, adding that the case is significant in the context of Customs enforcement against Internet piracy.

Customs will continue striving to combat Internet piracy and maintain close collaboration with the copyright owners. Upon detection of suspicious infringing activities or receipt of related complaints, Customs will contact the related copyright owners promptly to confirm whether there is criminal copyright infringement and take appropriate actions.

Customs reminds members of the public that copyright infringement and conspiracy to defraud are serious criminal offences. Under the Copyright Ordinance, a person commits an offence if the person, for the purpose of a circumvention business, or in the course of a circumvention business, sells or let for hire a relevant device, or provides relevant service in order to allow circumventing an effective technological measure which has been applied in relation to a copyright work. Offenders are liable on conviction to a maximum penalty of a fine of HK$500,000 (€53,600) and imprisonment for four years. Under the Crimes Ordinance, any person convicted of the offence of conspiracy to defraud shall be liable to a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 14 years.

The ISDs, branded as the Maige TV Box, were being sold to consumers for HK$2,200 (including first 12 months subscription) and provided illegal access to hundreds of live TV channels and movies, including channels belonging to PCCW, TVB, BBC, HBO, NBA and many other international channels.

“We congratulate Customs and the Hong Kong Police on the successful outcome of this enforcement action,” said John Medeiros, CASBAA Chief Policy Officer. “They uncovered a criminal fact pattern and acted upon it decisively. This type of crime heaps huge illicit profits into the pockets of criminal syndicates behind the manufacture and sale of ISDs, as well as the retransmission of the unauthorised content. Live sports channels, TV series and other premium broadcasting content is being stripped of value by the inundation of ISD boxes which provide illegal access to television programming. We are happy that Customs and the Police are helping to stem that tide.”

“ISDs with preloaded applications are readily available in many electronic outlets in Hong Kong with sales teams implying to consumers that the TV channels and movies available on the TV boxes are legal and the ‘very cheap’ service they sell will last indefinitely,” added Neil Gane, the General Manager of the recently launched CASBAA Coalition Against Piracy (CAP). “Today’s judicial outcome has provided clarification for those who buy and sell ISDs – TV boxes with applications allowing access to illicit TV channels and movies are illegal”.

TVB and PCCW, local operators whose content was among those illegally transmitted on the Maige boxes, also saluted the outcome. “The TV industry in Hong Kong has suffered a huge loss of revenue due to ISD piracy for many years,” said Desmond Chan, Deputy General Manager (Legal & International Operations) for Television Broadcasts Limited. “This is the first successful case on ISDs in Hong Kong. It should send a deterrent message to those engaged in the illicit ISD business. The TV industry will continue to support the Government’s law enforcement actions. We believe that Customs will soon step up their efforts in sweeping the local market and work more closely with overseas law enforcement agencies to crack down on ISD activities.”

TVB and PCCW are both members of the CASBAA Coalition Against Piracy (CAP), which also includes other leading video content creators and distributors in Asia including: beIN Asia Pacific, CASBAA, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, FOX Networks Group, HBO Asia, NBCUniversal, Premier League, Turner Asia Pacific, A&E Networks, Astro, BBC Worldwide, Cignal, Media Partners Asia, National Basketball Association (NBA), Singtel, Sony Pictures Television Networks Asia, True Visions, TV5MONDE, and Viacom International Media Networks.

CASBAA urges consumers to acquire their TV content from legal sources, and notes that purchasing and using some TV boxes could engage the consumer in illegal acts, depending on the internal workings of the box. The best guarantee of legality is subscribing to authorised TV services that provide high-quality programme signals.

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