Customs Officials Arrest 14 Year Pirate

In their infinite wisdom, customs officials in Hong Kong have arrested a child for sharing music on the Internet. The 14 year old boy, who is too young to be named, is alleged to have uploaded Chinese language pop songs, known as Cantopop, for others to download for free.

In order to better understand the position of this teenager and the craziness of today’s society, I’m reading this news through my memory of what it was like to be 14 again. School, friends, acne, the opposite sex – and computers, I loved them, in all their 8-bit glory.

So, customs officials in Hong Kong have arrested a 14 year old boy. The boy is suspected to have uploaded 2,000 Chinese-language pop songs onto the Internet. I’d love to be able to tell you this kid’s name, but (un)fortunately the law says he’s too young to be named. I’m sure kids today are much smarter and advanced than I was, so hopefully he’s not too young to understand what’s happening to him. The ‘not knowing’ would add considerably to his ordeal.

According to customs spokesman Michael Kwan, the teenager had been sharing Cantonese pop songs, known locally as Cantopop. When I was 14, I had cassette tapes filled with pop music too, all of it copied from anyone who had a copy. I doubt I had 2000 tracks, but I certainly had an impressive arsenal of jam-packed C90’s, and I happily copied them for anyone with a blank tape. In fact, faced with no money but a thirst for pop music, all my friends copied off each other, and the recipients of those copies all shared those with everyone else. It never crossed our minds that we would be arrested for it. Not once, since arrests seemed to be reserved for the glue-sniffing vandals who my parents warned me to stay away from, which I did, happily.

Copyright infringements in Hong Kong apparently carry a maximum penalty of four years in jail and a fine of HK$50,000 (US$6,400) for every item violated. A worrying amount for an adult, even ones who have the means to raise the cash. I once ran up a $30 telephone bill for my parents through my generous use of a 1200/75 modem. Through my kid’s vision it seemed like the end of the world, even though the phone company was the boogeyman, not the police or entertainment companies.

Mr Kwan, a head at Hong Kong’s Copyright Investigation Division, told at a press conference that the boy made a post on a forum indicating he had the songs for download. A press conference? For a 14 year old kid sharing music? Could I have imagined being arrested at 14 for taping music, taken away and then be the subject of discussion at a government press conference? Hardly. But maybe I should’ve been – they say standards are slipping in society, maybe the police and media companies coming down hard on children is the solution?

The Kid With No Name has been set free on a bail of 2,000 Hong Kong dollars, roughly US$260, and has not been charged while the police make further inquiries. Hopefully the investigation won’t interfere too much with his school work and revision at this crucial point in his education. Or maybe any diversion away from school work is cool in the eyes of a hormonal teenager? I think I’d have been happy to have a few disrupted maths lessons, but there again, in hindsight I didn’t understand how important they were. After all, I was just a kid.

But of course, eventually all kids grow up. We leave school and start earning our own money and start making those important decisions about where to spend it, which are probably shaped by previous life experiences and dreams for the future. We also decide who to vote for. I didn’t grow up in a ‘lock up pirates and throw away the key’ environment yet i’m still disturbed and concerned at how copyright enforcement is heading. Going to war against today’s potential customers seems foolish. Punishing and polarizing children – tomorrow’s customers – at the behest of big-business, is in a completely different league.

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