Film industry leaders here are charging that failure by the government to enforce intellectual property legislation that would halt imports of audiovisual products into Hong Kong before the end of an

HONG KONG (The Hollywood Reporter) -- Film industry leaders here are charging that failure by the government to enforce intellectual property legislation that would halt imports of audiovisual products into Hong Kong before the end of an 18-month window is having serious effects on the business.

"The biggest difficulty is that there are some gray areas," said Allan Fung, principal of Panorama Films. "We've got a law against it, but we're not really enforcing it. We need to take hard-nosed action to make it work. Otherwise, it is very hard for us to do business."

Hong Kong amended copyright laws in June 1997 to include a clause forbidding the import of audiovisual products until 18 months after its first (worldwide) release date. Infringing parties faced jail terms of up to four years and a maximum fine of about $6,400 per infringing copy.

However, copyright owners and licensees say bringing anyone to task for the crime is a long and convoluted process that involves first informing retailers they hold copyright, and issuing warning letters to infringing parties to stop selling the products, reporting them to Customs and Excise officials if that fails, or taking civil action against them.

"When you warn them that you hold the copyright and ask them to stop selling, they will take the products off the shelves. But we're not really there to make sure they don't still sell it after our people leave the shops," said Winnie Tsang, managing director of independent distributor Golden Scene.

Edko Films, another independent distributor owned by "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's" Bill Kong, found itself embroiled in a legal battle that lasted for more than three years when it tried to bring a retailer who imported the Korean film "The Last Witness" to justice.

Although Edko eventually won a judgement in its favor, it received no remuneration. "The shop had gone bust by then and the judge told us that it wouldn't do us any good to pursue it further," said a spokesman.

While there have been estimates on industry losses due to parallel imports, Panorama's Fung says the effect may be "quite significant" depending on how big the film or television series is. Panorama, which holds rights to the popular Korean drama series "Dae Jang-Geum" ("Jewel in the Palace"), invested heavily in dubbing the series into Cantonese only to find parallel imports flooding the markets.

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