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Hong Kong Movie Industry Takes on YouTube

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The cast and crew of the movie ‘A Simple Life’ celebrate onstage after the film won the Best Picture award at the 31st Hong Kong Film Awards on April 15, 2012.

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 U.S. 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 Mr. 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%.

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 Ms. 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 Mr. 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

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