Hong Kong anti-piracy reward scheme announced

The U.S.-based Business Software Alliance (BSA) and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) Customs and Excise Department announced a scheme to reward persons providing information on companies using illegal software at a joint press conference Tuesday.

The reward scheme starts June 12 and provides a three-tiered payment structure for information leading to legal action against a company or other entity in Hong Kong that is (a) using unlicensed software on at least 20 computers, or (b) using unlicensed software with a value of at least HK$250,000 (US$32,050). Informants are awarded HK$5,000, HK$15,000 and HK$20,000 (US$640, US$1,920 or US$2,560), depending on whether their information leads to a raid, criminal charges or conviction, respectively.

Vincent Poon, assistant commissioner of Customs and Excise, said that the program would be financed by the BSA and implemented by his department.

"Software piracy undermines innovation and creativity in the IT field," said BSA president and CEO Robert Holleyman. "It hinders Hong Kong's potential as an regional IT hub."

Holleyman praised SAR authorities for what he described as "proactive law enforcement" and "forward- looking legislation." However, he also said that "Hong Kong has no reason to be complacent."

While noting that Hong Kong's piracy rate had dropped from 57 percent in 2000 to 53 percent in 2001 (according to a BSA benchmark survey), Holleyman pointed out Japan's 30 percent rating as an example of what's possible in Asia. According to the survey, dollar losses for the Asia-Pacific region increased from $4.1 billion in 2000 to over $4.7 billion in 2001, accounting for almost half of revenue losses worldwide.

Poon said he expected current and former employees of companies to be the likeliest participants in the scheme. He also voiced concern for privacy issues and said that any claims would be thoroughly vetted by Customs and Excise before any action was taken. "We don't want to disturb legitimate businesses," said Poon.

The reward program will continue for three months. Poon described the three- month window as a "trial period." He added that while he hoped the scheme would bear fruit, there would be concerns about depleted funding if too many claimants proved successful. However, Poon declined to supply a dollar figure for the three-month run.

Holleyman, who cited China's 92 percent piracy rate as the second-worst in the region after Vietnam, said he would travel to the Chinese mainland this week to meet with officials. He described enforcement of existing laws as the main obstacle to anti-piracy efforts in China.

When asked if the BSA would consider initiating a similar reward scheme on the Chinese mainland, Holleyman said that if the program "led to significant results" in Hong Kong, the BSA would consider using it as "an appropriate model for other countries, including China."

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