Hong Kong's tough line on illicit TV boxes has been underlined with the jailing of three people involved in the practice.
A Customs raid on suppliers led to a box reseller from Sham Shui Po being jailed for 21 months for copyright and conspiracy to defraud, and two others accused of re-transmitting popular TV channels illegally being given jail sentences of 21 and 27 months respectively for copyright and conspiracy to defraud offences.
The case stemmed from a 2014 raid by Hong Kong Customs on four homes, a warehouse and a commercial electronics retail outlet, during which nine people were arrested and 38 ISD boxes seized. The charges were made under the anti-circumvention provisions of the Copyright Ordinance as well as common law offences of conspiracy to defraud.
The branded ISDs, which were being sold HK$2,200 including a 12 month subscription, provided illegal access to hundreds of live TV channels and movies, including channels belonging to PCCW, TVB, BBC, HBO, NBA and other international channels.
Results of a study published in September indicated that 39 per cent of Singaporeans either stream or download movies, TV shows or live sports channels illegally. Research firm Sycamore had conducted industry research in markets such as Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan, but found Singapore's active piracy rate the highest. In Australia the 27 per cent "actively pirating content" did not include those who use ISDs, which were admitted to by 14 per cent.
While two-thirds of Singaporeans agreed that piracy was stealing, nearly three-quarters considered piracy to be a "normal or typical behaviour".
CASBAA chief policy officer John Medeiros congratulated Customs and police on the Hong Kong action: "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."
General manager of the recently launched CASBAA Coalition Against Piracy Neil Gane said ISDs with preloaded applications were 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 were legal and the 'very cheap' service they sell would last indefinitely. "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."
Local operators TVB and PCCW also saluted the outcome. Television Broadcasts' Desmond Chan said the case 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".
The CASBAA Coalition Against Piracy also includes beIN Asia Pacific, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Fox Networks Group, HBO Asia, NBC Universal, 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. Established in 1991, CASBAA has members reaching more than 500 million from China to Australasia, Japan to Pakistan.
Pictured: A used Maige box being offered for sale on Australian eBay