H.K. bars ring up cable-theft tab

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HONG KONG -- Soccer world body FIFA and pay TV operator Hong Kong Cable Television Ltd. reached out of court settlements with three local red-light district bars that pirated the 2006 World Cup broadcast, the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia said Wednesday.

CASBAA would not divulge the amount of the settlements, but said that they covered a year's worth of legal costs.

"Pay TV is a major instrument for sports development and we are delighted to see Hong Kong taking the lead in protecting the rights of those who make big investments in the Asia Pacific," FIFA senior legal counsel David Murray said.

CASBAA CEO Simon Twiston Davies said there is no current plan to extend similar legal action to China, where similar pirated TV broadcasts at bars and restaurants are widespread.

"There's a different regime there and the situation is slightly different. We've made presentations to the authorities in regards to intellectual property rights issues, and it's an ongoing discussion," Davies said.

The settlements with the Bridge, Coyote Bar and Grill and Carnegies, all in Hong Kong's historically seedy Wanchai district, follows High Court lawsuits taken against a wide array of bars during last year's World Cup.

Two other bars, the White Stag and Devil's Advocate, still have outstanding copyright claims against them that have not yet reached any conclusion.

"It's important to take this action in Hong Kong, because the city is a flagship in our industry. In the north, as well as in markets like Singapore and India, they look to what is happening in Hong Kong as a shop window for our industry, so this is a very important benchmark for the protection of IPR," Davies said.

Pirating cable signals is easy compared with new technologies such as the IPTV network on which PCCW's Now TV plans to broadcast the upcoming English Premier League.

CASBAA maintain that they will continue to take legal action against illegal broadcasts in Hong Kong, targeting everyone from the traders in illegal decoders to the bars that broadcast the events.
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