Hong Kong Film Piracy on YouTube Amounts to $308 Million Loss

Copyright-infringing videos of over 200 films found on world's largest video-sharing website

HONG KONG – Severe copyright infringement of Hong Kong films is rife on YouTube, with pirated footage of over 200 Hong Kong films found on the world’s largest video-sharing website, amounting to an estimated loss of over HK$2.4 billion ($308 million) to the local film industry, according to the Hong Kong Motion Pictures Industry Association (MPIA). MPIA members urged YouTube and other video-sharing websites to enforce the German court ruling last Friday (April 20) to implement measures to restrict content that infringe copyright.

The recent local box office hit Love in the Buff was found to be uploaded in its entirety, directly affecting the theatrical gross of the film, a situation that the association called “extremely severe” in a statement.

The videos were taken down after a formal complaint made to YouTube by Media Asia, the copyright holder of Love in the Buff

But YouTube did not act promptly when contacted by Media Asia to remove the illegally obtained uploaded Buff film, taking days for the removal. John Chong, producer of the film, commented in the statement that YouTube showed “an extreme lack of efficiency in the removal of the pirated videos, but was not responsible for any loss incurred due to the delay in the removal.” Previously, the website operator had immediately taken down pirated film material when contacted by the copyright holder.

“YouTube repeatedly requested the copyright holder to prove that they are the holder in order to remove the pirated videos of Love in the Buff, while they allow anyone to claim to be the copyright holder when uploading the videos. It’s very unreasonable,” MPIA CEO Brian Chung told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview. “The pirated videos on YouTube greatly hurt the theatrical performance of the film.”

Chong believed the German court ruling on Friday for YouTube to restrict videos that might violate copyright should be enforced for YouTube and other video-sharing websites at the earliest possibility.

In view of the pirated video of Buff on YouTube, MPIA members, which are made up of representatives from most of Hong Kong's film studios, have searched and found in three days over 200 films illegally uploaded on to YouTube, including past and recent Hong Kong Film Awards winners: A Simple Life, The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, Echoes of the Rainbow, and Shaolin Soccer. Blockbuster Ip Man and its sequel were split into 107 videos, while the pirated YouTube videos of clubbing drama Lan Kwai Fong and Jet Li’s Fearless received 1.8 million and 1.4 million hits, respectively. A fight scene from Bruce Lee’s Way of the Dragon was viewed 4.8 million times.

With accumulated views of over 40 million, MPIA estimated a loss of over HK$2.4 billion to the Hong Kong film industry, based on an average cinema ticket price of HK$60.

“For a video-sharing website of this size and scope, YouTube must have censorship mechanisms to prohibit the uploading of illegal material, such as child pornography or content of extreme violence,” Chung added. “It makes no sense for the copyright owner of a current film release to upload the entire film on to YouTube, so how can YouTube allow just anyone to claim to be the copyright owner and show the whole film on their website?”

Chung said the association is not trying to single out YouTube, but the company’s international visibility and accessibility has made the severity of the situation impossible for Hong Kong filmmakers to ignore. “YouTube, or any other video-sharing websites, should have a set of ethics in dealing with copyrighted material. It’s unfair to the copyright owner,” Chung said.  “The U.S. has always set great store by the protection of intellectual property. As a company headquartered in the U.S., owned by Google, the world’s largest internet search company, it turns out that it allows pirated content on its website. How would the U.S. view this situation?”

YouTube and its parent company Google have not yet replied to The Hollywood Reporter’s request for comment. 

MPIA members are now in discussion to determine a strategy to combat piracy online, but meanwhile, “due to the urgency and severity of the situation, we’d hope to raise awareness on it as soon as possible,” Chung said.

While online piracy is an extension of the larger film piracy issue present since the 1990s, remarked Ip Man director Wilson Yip in the statement, he hoped for effective law enforcement to combat the issue. Free viewing of pirated films would pose an even more serious problem for the film industry, noted Lan Kwai Fong executive producer Patrick Tong, as it is nearly impossible to find the culprit responsible. “It’s a harsh blow to the producers and investors, giving rise to a vicious circle of fewer and fewer investors, and a further weakening of the Hong Kong film industry.”