When it comes to copyright infringements, America’s traditionally pointed its finger at Asia, especially China. But this time, the finger-wagging is going the other way.
This week, Hong Kong’s movie industry made no secret of its outrage over how the city’s movies – long one of its proudest cultural exports – are the subject of widespread piracy on YouTube, the US video sharing website.
According to a Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Association member survey, clips from over 200 Hong Kong movies have been found on the popular video-streaming site, including some new releases that are still being screened in local theaters. More than half of these movies were available in full-length form on YouTube, says Brian Chung, MPIA’s CEO and a former screenwriter – though others were split into consecutive clips, which in one case had over 100 installments. Popular hits available online included Hong Kong Film Award winner A Simple Life, as well as romantic comedy Love in the Buff (both are still in theaters), as well as various flicks starring Bruce Lee, Hong Kong’s homegrown martial-arts actor. Collectively, such clips garnered views in excess of over 40 million.
“Our members are so angry about this,” says Chung, adding that each view could be a potential movie ticket sale loss.
These losses come at a time when Hong Kong’s traditionally vibrant movie industry is already faltering. While its auteurs left their cultural stamp across generations of moviegoers during their heyday in the 80s, the industry has since slumped as viewers have gravitated toward Hollywood and the production of regional rivals, including South Korea and Japan. From 2000-2006 alone, the number of films produced in Hong Kong dropped by over 40 percent.
Media Asia Films, which produced Love in the Buff, says YouTube’s system for taking down videos is too slow and unresponsive. “We tried to click the infringement icon on YouTube,” says Regina Li, senior administrative officer for the company’s legal department. “We clicked it many times.” By the time YouTube took down the full-length version of the film that a user had posted online, the pirated film had already been viewed over 180,000 times, said Li. The film production company had to wait days for the video to come down, they said, and were asked to provide documentation to prove that Media Asia Films was in fact the copyright’s holder.
“YouTube’s logic is not reasonable,” says Chung. “A user can upload anything with no filter, but the copyright owner needs to provide much proof and documentation to get it taken down.” He applauded the decision of a German court last week, which ruled that sites such as YouTube can be held liable if they don’t place controls over the content uploaded to their site, or fail to act once copyright infringements are reported. The court also ruled that YouTube (which is owned by Google) should install filtering software to prevent future uploads of unauthorised content.
In response to MPIA’s concerns, a Google spokesperson said that the company takes copyright issues “very seriously” and that YouTube has “strong measures to deter infringement and a fast and efficient notice-and-takedown process.” As well, the spokesperson added, “Our community guidelines and on-site messaging make it clear that users must own material or have permission from copyright holders to upload.”
Chung says that MPIA has asked Hong Kong’s government to continue to follow up on the issue with YouTube.
Meanwhile across the border, a group of Chinese writers is suing Apple for copyright violations, claiming that the company has allowed users to download pirated version of their books through its App Store. The writers, among them wunderkind racecar driver and novelist Han Han, are demanding compensation of $1.9 million from the company.
Update: A YouTube spokesman said that the company cooperates with copyright holders to “identify and promptly remove infringing content.” With 60 hours of video uploaded every minute, the spokesman added, “we can’t and don’t control the content on our site. ”
Category: Hong Kong