2005-10-25

Hong Kong's Guinness Record, bit torrent, piracy vs privacy in HK

A district court in Tuen Mun decided an unemployed men, Nai-ming Chan, known by his internet handle as "Gu Huo Tian Huang" (古惑天皇, Tricky Heaven-Emperor), guilty on bit-torrent seeding of 3 movies. It will determine whether he would be fined or jailed in the coming week.

The man did not make a single cent from uploading the torrent files or the seeding the movies. ("official" background coverage here)

This has won a Guinness First for HK in the "war against piracy", and made HK Hollywood's best friend, maybe. In US and UK, suspects are usually threatened by RIAA to settle for a few thousand dollars against P2P sharing of several thousand soundtracks. Many experts also believe that, by fighting against internet sharing of entertainment content instead of leveraging the technology, Hollywood is probably making the same mistake when it fought aginst VHS and Betamax in the 1970s. DVD/VHS sales later were proven to yield higher revenue than box office.

One wonders, why HK scored this global first, while MPAA and RIAA struggle elsewhere, including in the industry-friendly USA and technologically advanced Scandinavia.

There are many reasons, among them
  • HK is eager to shed its reputation of piracy haven
  • HK itself has, arguably, been the movie capital in Asia. Local industry group has been instrumental in pressuring the government for action
  • But more controversial and crucial is, though, how the man was searched and indicted.
    • In US, it requires a John Doe suit to force the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to release the IP address in order to identify the suspect
    • Canada goes one step further, ISPs cannot release the IP addresses of its users.
    • In HK, there was the alleged "blatant violation of privacy" by Chan's ISP, i-Cable, a subsidiary of the Wharf Group, which has led to the Custom Officers charging into the suspect's home and seized his had-disk
    • The ISP also provided evidence to the prosecutors when it went into trial, without any challenge from the local "democrats" or "human right fighters". Apparently Martin Lee's human right is more equal than Naiming Chan's.

Media discussions have been focused on whether BT is a technology we should embrace, or P2P sharing is legitimate. Little attention was paid to the privacy and legal implications. Mr Chan, himself, has not made any indication of suing i-Cable for privacy violation (nor has anyone reminded him of such option), which could have been a good case in another country.

HK's success is a result of its free-trade, low tax and its legal system. The legal system has been undersieged since Tung Chee Hwa and Slug-in-Eel came to power, there are also discussions and plans to complicate its simple tax scheme (sales tax!). HK has vowed to encourage technology innovation ever since the property bubble burst in 1998. While HK's so called Cyberport project was accused of cronyism and was eventually turned into a real estate development, in California Bit-torrent has received $8.75M of funding from Venture Capital DCM-Doll.

On the other hand, ruling the first seeder in BT illegal barely solve the problem. New technology can always circumvent the legal loopholes (e.g. exeem has decentralized trackers). It is also hard to locate and sue seeders in other countries. In China, seeds are placed in Internet Cafe's, which makes the responsibility even harder to track. Wi-fi (and Wimax in future) is already under deployment in many US cities (Chaska MN, Culver City CA, Philadelphia, and San Francisco), you cannot trace IP address in a wi-fi connection.

HK boasts many world first's:

Is this one a "first" that HK should be proud of?

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Update: Charter Garden made it clear, he is not comfortable with the notion that “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about.” Remember the Article 23 debate.

Update (Nov 6): Chen was sentenced to 3 months (3 movies, about 40-50 downloads), while a similar offense in Sweden was fined $2000 (1 movie). In the US, web-site listing millions of movie, music, softwares such as suprnovr.org and elite torrent were warned and shut down; no one goes to jail. However, there are many still operating, mostly hosted/operated outside the US. HK has its own peculiar "justice".

1 comment:

beforestforever said...

Very nice post, this can be interpreted how you can kill a potential newborn industry and penalize creativity
Or, how you can help to make a newborn industry and cash the creativity.