Pirate TV syndicate operating in Australia raided

Hong Kong: Asian pay-TV association CASBAA today congratulated Australian police for a dramatic raid on a pirate TV syndicate operating in Australia via high-capacity Internet servers based in China.

The December 13 raid on the B&L LED Sign company in Hurstville, in the suburbs of Sydney, signaled the latest stage in a long term campaign to track down the promoters and users of Internet-based networks distributing illegal TV signals in Australia. Based on the cash raked in by the Hurstville operation, police estimated that A$150 million could be have been effectively stolen from the legitimate TV distribution industry by multinational criminal gangs.

“This time the primary victim was TVB Australia, and the Hurstville police have done a great job to get this far,” said CASBAA CEO Simon Twiston Davies. “And so has TVB Australia, which brought the initial information to them.”

TVB, based in Hong Kong, is the world’s largest creator and seller of Chinese-language TV programming, distributing its programming in Australia through a satellite-based pay-TV service, TVB Australia. The piracy network was stealing and reselling TV signals from TVB as well as a host of other international pay-TV channels, in English as well as Chinese.

Other channels distributed included high-value TV networks such as CNN, ESPN, MTV, Discovery, National Geographic, HBO, Fox and the BBC, alongside a library of Video on Demand shows and movies not yet released on legal DVDs — all streamed from China directly to the user’s TV set.

Police said they will file charges that carry heavy fines and potential maximum jail terms of five years. They will also interview homeowners who have received the stolen programming, some of whom may face charges themselves.

Increases in broadband penetration throughout Asia are making it easier for criminals to steal TV programming they do not own, and to re-sell to others. Too often, consumers sign up as accomplices in the theft. “Australia has strong laws to protect copyrighted broadcasts,” said Twiston Davies, “including holding end-users responsible for the consumption of stolen signals.”

CASBAA held up the Hurstville raid as evidence that Australia is committed to enforcing its laws, and that policing there is effective. “We wish that other governments in this region would demonstrate the same commitment as Australia to preventing misuse of the Internet for TV piracy,” said Twiston Davies. “The problem is only going to grow, if other governments don’t get serious.”

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