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Hong Kong Customs Take Down TV Set-Top Box Syndicate

Nine arrested during simultaneous operations by authorities

  • 18Jun 2014

HONG KONG – On June 17, Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department (HKCED) carried out a significant operation against a syndicate suspected of mass copyright infringement by means of circumvention through TV set-top boxes. Nine people were arrested and 41 TV set-top boxes seized.

Officers from HKCED conducted raids on a syndicate operating out of three residential premises at Tai Kok Tsui, Lei Muk Shue and Yau Tong, seizing a total of 41 TV set-top boxes used for watching pay TV channels, along with sophisticated computer equipment used for uploading live TV channels.

Two simultaneous actions by officers from HKCED revealed that 11 channels were being uploaded to overseas servers that were then streamed to TV set-top boxes, inclusive of the copyrighted pay TV channels, and were being offered for sale at a hawker pitch in Ap Liu Street, Sham Shui Po at HK$2,500 per set top box. While the fee included the annual subscription fee for the first year, buyers were requested to pay additional subscription fees of HK$800 per year at point of sale.

Commenting on the operation, Senior Superintendent Mr. Lee Hon-wah, Head of Intellectual Property Investigation Bureau, HKCED, said, “The operation yesterday followed a comprehensive and detailed investigation into the suspected mass copyright infringement of film and television content via the sale of pre-loaded TV set-top boxes which blatantly circumvent technological protection measures. HKCED are committed to dismantling any criminal syndicate who attempts to profit from this type of illegal activity. Intellectual property crime is a serious offence which undermines the work of the copyright industries and puts valuable jobs and careers at risk.”

Ms. Janice Lee, Managing Director of TV & New Media, PCCW, said, “now TV attaches great importance to the protection of intellectual property rights and respects originality and creativity. To safeguard sustainable development of the TV and production industries, we reserve the right to take actions including commencing civil action against any person or organization infringing on copyright, in addition to reporting such matters to the relevant law enforcement agencies. We are encouraged that the Customs has successfully made the arrests following now TV’s complaint and our technical assistance in relation to its investigation throughout the past few weeks. We note that currently some apps or TV boxes in the market claim to enable users to watch programs for free. However, consumers should be aware that the distribution of some of these programs may not be authorized by the content owners and those responsible may be committing an offence. Furthermore, content transmission by these services may sometimes be unstable with poor quality such as frozen or blurred pictures, or may even be abruptly interrupted.”

Clera Chu, Vice Chairman of Hong Kong Video Development Foundation Limited, said, “We congratulate the actions of the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department. This was a significant result in closing down a sophisticated and highly-organized outfit attempting to make huge profits from valuable content that they do not own, and off the back of the hard work of the many people who contribute their time, skills and energy into creating quality entertainment for audiences. It is important that audiences are aware that any purchase of a TV set-top box which includes illegal access to pay TV channels seriously affects the ability of TV companies to carry out their business and produce and distribute TV shows. I hope that this operation sends a strong message to those who are thinking of conducting similar activities in Hong Kong and mainland China that the authorities will take all measures under the law to carry out investigations, shut down operations and arrest those involved.”

Mike Ellis, President and Managing Director, Asia Pacific, Motion Picture Association, said, “Kudos to HKCED for their swift and effective action to close down this suspected criminal syndicate. These types of organizations are committing serious intellectual property crimes that undermine the ability of those working in our film and television community to develop, produce and distribute quality entertainment for audiences in Hong Kong and around the world. We look forward to supporting any action in Hong Kong and mainland China which results in the demise of any criminal activity that involves the circumvention of technological protection measures of valuable film and TV content via TV set-top boxes.”

In all, five men and four women from the alleged criminal syndicate, aged between 22 and 66 were arrested. Six members are suspected to be responsible for uploading live TV channels to the TV set-top boxes, while the remaining three were engaged in the sales side of the operation.

HKCED reports that the members of the syndicate are being held for questioning and the investigation is continuing.

While set-top boxes (STBs) are increasingly popular for accessing unlimited on-demand viewing of TV shows and movies via a consumer’s internet connection, criminal syndicates are profiting from sales of STBs that either circumvent the authorized technological protection measures embedded within the hardware, or pre-load the device with applications (apps) that enable users to play games, listen to music, access emails or stream infringing film and television content.

The film and TV industry in Hong Kong has been working closely with local authorities to raise awareness and address the threat of unauthorized TV set-top boxes and the negative impact on both the screen community and consumers.

Under the Copyright Ordinance, a person commits an offence if he, for the purpose of, or in the course of a circumvention business, promotes, advertises for providing or provides relevant service in order to circumvent an effective technological measure. Offenders are liable on conviction on indictment to a fine of HK$500,000 and to imprisonment of up to four years. 

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For more information, please contact

Stephen Jenner
MPA Asia-Pacific
(65) 6253 1033

June Tan
MPA Asia-Pacific
(65) 6253 1033

About the MPA: Promoting & Protecting Screen Communities in Asia Pacific

The Motion Picture Association (MPA) and the Motion Picture Association International (MPA-I) represent the interests of the six international producers and distributors of filmed entertainment. To do so, they promote and protect the intellectual property rights of these companies and conduct public awareness programs to highlight to movie fans around the world the importance of content protection. These activities have helped to transform entire markets benefiting film and television industries in each country including foreign and local filmmakers alike.

The organizations act on behalf of the members of the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc (MPAA) which include; Paramount Pictures Corporation; Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.; Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Universal City Studios LLC; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. The MPA and the MPA-I have worldwide operations which are directed from their head offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. and overseen in the Asia Pacific by a team based in Singapore. For more information about the MPA, please visit www.mpa-i.org.