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Hong Kong Customs Seizes 7,400 Fake Textbooks

Issued: September 19 2014

Hong Kong Customs has crushed a syndicate supplying infringing textbooks to primary schools and parents in a recent operation. More than 7,400 infringing primary school textbooks were seized, and three men and a woman were arrested.

Textbooks are usually delivered in June or July so that they are ready for students when they get back to class in August or September. “So it makes sense that counterfeit textbooks (as compared to other types of counterfeit books) would be more abundant in commerce, as they are being delivered to schools,” says Michael Lin, a partner at Marks & Clerk in Hong Kong. “Other seasonal books would peak during different times – i.e., before the holiday season, before the summer reading season, etc.”

Customs earlier received information about parents’ complaints on the inferior quality of textbooks ordered through their children’s schools, suspecting that the textbooks were counterfeits. Customs then took action and seized more than 200 suspected infringing textbooks pending collection by parents at two primary schools. Upon investigation, it was found that the textbooks were supplied by a syndicate.

Such large-scale illegal copying is rare in the educational field. Small portions of books and other publications are often copied among university course readers, and there is an argument that these constitute fair use if the amount copied is reasonable and the profit is de minimis. Usually, universities pay copyright fees as required.

Wholesale copying of entire books happens in many countries, but this is the first time Lin has heard of it in Hong Kong. “It’s really the sheer scale and audacity of this copying that makes it newsworthy,” he says. “To avoid similar issues in the future, school administrators will need to be more careful about their textbook suppliers and vet them more carefully.”

Customs mounted an operation on July 24 after relevant copyright owners had confirmed that the seized textbooks were infringing. Bookstores in Yuen Long and Tuen Mun and a warehouse in Tuen Mun managed by the syndicate were raided, leading to the seizure of more than 7,400 suspected infringing textbooks in over 90 titles with a total value of more than HK$530,000 (US$68,400). Three men and a woman were arrested; two of them were directors of the syndicate and the other two being staff.

While searching for infringing textbooks, Customs found some legitimate copies of textbooks in the bookstores and warehouse. It is believed that the offenders deliberately sourced a certain number of legitimate copies to evade detection. The legitimate copies and the infringing ones were mixed together and supplied to the schools and parents in order to increase the syndicate’s profit.

Infringers usually mix legitimate goods with infringing goods for exactly that reason,” Lin says. “They also will point to the legitimate goods and claim ignorance that any counterfeit goods were included in the shipment.”

Customs will step up enforcement against any activities relating to infringing textbooks before the new school year commences.


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