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Pic pirate pinched in Hong Kong

Police action the first of its kind

HONG KONG — Customs officials broke ground when they arrested a man suspected of illegally distributing movies on the Web through BitTorrent technology.

Arrest for copyright infringement — the first of its kind — took place Wednesday after officers learned that someone had uploaded three different movies to a local BT discussion forum.

The film industry cheered this first step but acknowledges that the process will be long but vital.

“People on the Net will be scared, more cautious,” said Woody Tsung, chief exec of Hong Kong’s Motion Pictures Industry Assn. “But if this drags on for too long without a clear victory, it might backfire.”

Hong Kong’s copyright law makes it a criminal offense to upload copyrighted material and a civil offense to download illegal files.

During the arrest of the 38-year-old unemployed man, officers confiscated two computers and related equipment at his home.

Action was the result of work done by a joint peer-to-peer task force set up in mid-December between the customs department and the film industry.

Group includes the customs department, the Motion Picture Assn. and two other film companies that preferred not to be named, said Sam Ho, director of operations for Great China for the MPA. One is an MPA member and the other a local distributor.

The group used Stephen Chow’s “Kung Fu Hustle” as a test case while still searching for other illegal activity. Some files of the popular action comedy were found, but they weren’t uploads originating from Hong Kong, Ho noted.

In Hong Kong, the copyright law was enacted in 1997, when P2P problems couldn’t be anticipated. As a result, Ho said the government needs to make changes to the law as quickly as possible to reflect the changed times.

The government is holding a public consultation period on copyright protection until Feb. 15.