HONG KONG — After a year of intense lobbying, including a protest march led by Jackie Chan, the legislature has passed a new copyright law that provides for tougher criminal penalties against parallel importers of videos and music.
Film luminaries had banded together with industry officials to persuade the legislators that the already ailing movie business could be gutted if copyright enforcement was not beefed up.
They defeated an array of video and music retailers, as well as consumer groups, who had argued that parallel imports provide a greater choice of product at a lower price. The retailers had also argued that their businesses would be severely damaged unless they got their way.
The democratically elected legislature hastily enacted the copyright legislation last week, along with a slew of other laws, before China put the council out of business at the stroke of midnight on June 30.
“We have to protect copyright owners, rather than the film and recording industry, which has to take care of its own survival,” Democratic Party legislator Sin Chung-kai said.
In the past, criminal penalties were on the books but were not enforced. Now, an unauthorized distributor who brings in products from other countries could face penalties ranging up to eight years in prison and HK$500,000 ($65,000) in fines.
The criminal penalties can be applied for 18 months after the copyright is granted. After that, only civil penalties can be levied.
The film and music industries had sought a 24-month period for criminal sanctions but grudgingly accepted the compromise.
It’s generally agreed that the new law will make it easier to investigate copyright infringement and to prosecute offenders.
“We need to see how the law is interpreted after the handover,” said Woody Tsung, chief executive of the Motion Picture Industry Assn. “There’s a great possibility that there will be a test case. Even the retailers want to know what the limit will be.”