Two Hong Kong tutors were among five people arrested by customs officers last week on suspicion of violating the city’s copyright law by selling patented teaching kits online.
More than 59,000 electronic files containing suspected copyrighted teaching materials for primary schools were seized, said Superintendent Phoebe Wong Wai-chuen of the Customs and Excise Department’s intellectual property investigation bureau, who described the operation as the “biggest of this kind”.
The materials – containing questions and suggested answers, as well as test papers – were designed by local publishers for primary school teachers, but they were not meant to be sold to the public, according to the customs department. The seized materials were for subjects such as English language, Chinese language, mathematics and general studies from the Primary One to Six levels.
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Five Hongkongers – one man and four women – were arrested last Thursday when officers raided the Sai Ying Pun office of a private tutorial centre. Raids were also conducted on four residential units in Sai Ying Pun, Sha Tin, Fanling and Tseung Kwan O.
Two of the suspects were tutors at the centre, while the others were a housewife, a jobless woman and one person whose occupation was not specified.
Assistant Superintendent Henry Wong Che-yin, head of customs’ intellectual property technology crime unit, said he did not think there was a syndicate behind the suspects.
“We believe they worked individually to sell the suspected copyright-infringing teaching materials on the internet,” he said.
He added some of the suspects had set up web pages to sell the teaching kits, while others joined online chat groups for parents to tout the illegal business.
He said the materials were sold for between HK$100 (US$13) and HK$600 a set, and links for downloading the kits were sent to buyers after the transfer of money to designated bank accounts.
Customs officers began investigating the matter late last year after receiving a complaint from a copyright owner.
Superintendent Wong said officers posing as customers purchased the materials on the internet to gather evidence.
After identifying the suspects, they swung into action and made the arrests.
During the operation, five computers and four tablets were seized, along with some memory devices and mobile phones.
Officers found more than 50,000 electronic files of suspected copyrighted question banks for primary schools in one of the computers.
The suspects, aged between 39 and 55, were arrested for violating the Copyright Ordinance, which carries a maximum penalty of four years in jail and a HK$50,000 fine per infringement. The five have been released on bail pending further investigation.
Officers are still looking into the source of the teaching materials.
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