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Hong Kong Customs deserves praise for piracy crackdown on TV set-top boxes

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In a recent article by Mr Alex Lo (“World Cup matches rigged in Hong Kong”, May 30), he takes umbrage, as a taxpayer, at the fact that law enforcement agencies have the audacity to enforce the law – in this particular case, intellectual property law.

Mr Lo was referring to the recent commendable enforcement efforts by Hong Kong Customs against retailers of TV boxes preloaded with apps – known as illicit streaming devices (ISDs) that allow access to pirated movie content and TV channels.

These little black boxes are taking over piracy and fast becoming a perfect storm, impacting all businesses involved in the production and distribution of legitimate content – from internet service providers to content providers. Payment for access to illicit content can be wrapped into the purchase price of the device, or alternatively through annual “subscription” payments.

Illicit streaming device piracy is organised crime, pure and simple
The most troubling part of Mr Lo’s article is he has totally ignored the fact that ISD piracy is organised crime, pure and simple, with crime syndicates making substantial illicit revenues from illegally retransmitted TV channels and the sale of such ISDs.

Similar enforcement in the UK found that millions of pounds in illicit revenue were being made by ISD syndicates in a relatively short period of time.

Walk into a tech exhibition in Singapore or popular tech shopping malls in Singapore, Taiwan or Bangkok, and illicit streaming devices will be one of the hot-ticket items being sold. That used to be the case in popular tech shopping malls in Sham Shui Po or Wan Chai up until last weekend. But thanks to the Hong Kong Customs, which has a sterling record of enforcing intellectual property laws, that is no longer the case.

Customs officers crack down on illegal set-top boxes ahead of Fifa World Cup in Russia
The likelihood of success for legitimate online content suppliers is severely reduced by online access to pirated content via ISDs. Like any business, if the content industry is unable to make returns on their substantial investment then they will be unable to reinvest in content that consumers love to watch.

Rampant ISD sales are creating a “free” market where only the crime syndicates financially benefit. Surely this is not the “free market with Hong Kong characteristics” that Mr Lo or anyone else would really want.

Neil Gane, managing director, Casbaa Coalition Against Piracy


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