´╗┐Customs uncovers "top-site" piracy case

15 Jun 2009

Hong Kong Customs has uncovered a case involving an international piracy syndicate that uses high-speed Internet servers (generally called "top-site") to distribute copyright-infringing items, including movies, music, computer programmes and videogame software. With the arrest of two men, it is believed that Customs has successfully smashed the syndicate’s setup in Hong Kong for distributing pirated items and seized all the related computer equipment used by the syndicate here.

Speaking on the case and the mode of operation of the "top-site" at a press briefing today (June 15), Customs Divisional Commander (Copyright Investigation), Mr Michael Kwan, said that through the setting up of high-speed computer servers, the syndicate enabled its members to upload and download the infringing items.

Noting that the "top-site" was operated in a highly covert manner, Mr Kwan said that new members could only join through existing members, and general Internet users were unable to join. All the members themselves were generally active in uploading infringing items. "Top-site" members in different countries or places would, using high-speed servers, upload and download infringing items. They would search for the latest pirated items and upload them onto the "top-site", extending the scope and quantity of the pirated items.

The infringing items on the "top-site" were usually the latest editions or yet to be released. To ensure that the items were the newest and most popular, the items uploaded would not be kept on the "top-site" for a long period, such as more than one month, he said.

Members of the "top-site", after downloading the infringing items, distributed them in large quantities to make profits by various means, including uploading them onto discussion forums, through point-to-point networks and websites and even by producing optical discs for sale.

During the investigation, Customs officers found that to ensure its covert nature, members of the syndicate were required to log into the "top-site" at a designated overseas Internet Protocol (IP) address besides keying in the user name and password. Logging in from a Hong Kong IP address would be rejected to evade Customs detection. The officers also found that there was another computer server suspected to be used for mass distribution of movie and music files after they were downloaded from the "top-site", Mr Kwan said.

Customs officers earlier received reports from copyright industry representatives who suspected that a "top-site" had been set up to distribute infringing items. Following in-depth investigations by the Anti-Internet Piracy Team which located the IP address of the servers concerned and the suspects, a raiding operation was mounted on June 9 on two residential premises in Chai Wan and Kowloon Bay.

At the Chai Wan premises, a 23-year-old man suspected to be connected with the "top-site" was arrested and three computers loaded with a large quantity of movies, music and computer programmes files were seized.

At the Kowloon Bay premises, a 35-year-old man suspected to have downloaded infringing items from the "top-site" for distribution through the Internet was arrested. A computer loaded with a large quantity of infringing computer programmes, music, animation and comics was seized. The total value of the computer equipment seized in the two premises is about $34,000.

It was believed that the "top-site" had been operating for more than two years with about 200 active members in Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Mainland, Japan, Korea, India, Australia, the United States and Canada, Mr Kwan said. Other than setting up a "top-site" in Hong Kong, the syndicate might have also set up similar "top-sites" in other places. Similar enforcement action against "top-sites" had taken place overseas. It is believed that this case is so far the first "top-site" case detected in Asia.

Hong Kong Customs would exchange intelligence and liaise closely with enforcement agencies in other places to combat these illicit infringing activities, Mr Kwan said.

The two arrested men have been bailed out on $5,000 each pending investigation.

Under the Copyright Ordinance, any person, without the licence of the copyright owner of a copyright work, distributes an infringing copy of the work (even not for the purpose of or in the course of any trade or business) to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the copyright owner commits a criminal offence. The maximum penalty for the offence is imprisonment for four years and a fine of $50,000 per infringing copy.

Customs appeals to members of the public to respect intellectual property rights. Any person taking part in online infringing activities will be subject to criminal liability as well as civil litigation.

Anyone who comes across any suspected online piracy activities is encouraged to report to the Customs by calling the 24-hour hotline 2545 6182.

Ends/Monday, June 15, 2009

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