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Hong Kong cracks down on Net movie pirates

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on May 10, 2006

Fearless poster.jpg McDull poster.jpg Shopaholics poster.jpg

Hong Kong’s movie industry used to rank up there with Hollywood and Bollywood in terms of output, but in the late 1990s the industry fell on hard times, largely because piracy. Ever since, the city’s movie makers have struggled to get people to watch movies in theaters rather than buying pirated DVDs for a few bucks. And in a city with one of the world’s highest rates of broadband penetration, illegal downloading of movies off the Internet has just made the problem worse. This year, two of the biggest hits in Hong Kong’s movie industry have been “Fearless,” a Jet Li kung fu picture, and “McDull the Alumni,” the sequel to a movie about a beloved cartoon pig named, naturally, McDull. (Sorry, but I’ve never seen McDull I or II, so I can’t explain the name.) Sure enough, the movies have been popular not only at the box office but also online, thanks to illegal downloading.

Today, the producers of “Fearless” and “McDull,” along with the producers of last year’s “The Shopaholics,” won a landmark ruling in Hong Kong, when a court in the Special Administrative Region ordered some local Internet service providers to cough up personal details on 49 alleged illegal downloaders. China, of course, has an awful reputation for counterfeiting. Despite that (or perhaps because of it) Hong Kong’s government has been at the forefront of efforts to crack down on illegal downloading of movies off of the Net. Last year a court sentenced a local man to three months in prison after he was convicted of illegally distributing three movies using BitTorrent technology. According to the Motion Picture Association, which represents the major Hollywood studios in efforts to fight piracy worldwide, the case “was the first in which criminal charges were filed against a uers of BitTorrent (BT) technology.”

Now Hong Kong’s government is using the latest case to advertise to locas - and to rest of the world - that the pressure is still on. “The court’s decision has sent out a very clear message to infringers that they cannot get away with their Internet piracy activities,” crowed Joseph Wong, Hong Kong’s secretary for commerce, industry and technology, in a statement released today after the court order. Unfortunately for Hong Kong’s ailing film industry, it’s still ridiculously easy to get cheap, pirated DVDs in Hong Kong or across the border in Shenzhen. Until that problem is solved, Hong Kong’s movie producers will continue struggling.

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies.

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