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Edison Chen photo scandal
The Edison Chen photo scandal involved the illegal distribution over the Internet of intimate and private photographs of Hong Kong actor Edison Chen with various women, including actresses Gillian Chung, Bobo Chan, Rachel Ngan and Cecilia Cheung. The scandal shook the Hong Kong entertainment industry in early 2008 and received high profile media attention locally and around the world. Many local newspapers headlined the story consecutively during the first fortnight of February 2008, relegating coverage of the 2008 Chinese winter storms to secondary prominence during Chinese New Year.
The Hong Kong police enlisted the assistance of Interpol to stem the spread of the photographs. Ten people were arrested in connection with the distribution of the photographs. A computer technician was convicted of three counts of obtaining access to a computer with dishonest intent, and received a custodial sentence of eight and a half months.
The police crackdown raised questions over violations of the privacy and free speech rights of Internet users. The manner in which actors, their management, and the police handled the situation, in turn, made those arrested into heroes for some Internet users.
Chen admitted being the author and copyright owner of most of the photographs, and stated that the private photographs had been stolen and published illegally without his consent. He made a public apology, especially to the women involved, and also announced that he would "step away indefinitely" from the Hong Kong entertainment industry.
Elite Multimedia, the shop at the centre of the allegationsIn November 2006, Chen purchased a pink PowerBook personal computer, a photograph of which he published on his blog. It may have come from eLite Multimedia, a computer shop in Hong Kong's Central district. According to the police, Chen's "Cotton-candy Mac" computer was sent in for repairs, and an estimated 1,300 intimate photographs of Chen and numerous female celebrities may have been accessed and secretly copied by one or more of the shop's employees. According to Chen, the image files were deleted before the computer was taken in for repairs.
Chen's photographs were reportedly made some time between 2003 and 2006. One close friend indicated that Chen liked to take photographs during intimate moments with his sexual partners, of whom 14 were celebrities, and privately showed these to a select group of close friends.
The first photograph, depicting Chen and Gillian Chung, was posted on the Hong Kong Discuss Forum at approximately 8:30 p.m. on 27 January 2008. Although the original post was deleted after a few hours, some visitors forwarded the image to other major forums in Hong Kong such as Uwants and HKGolden. Chung's management agency, Emperor Entertainment Group (EEG), immediately challenged its authenticity, and filed a police report.
The following day, a second explicit photograph of Chen, with another starlet, appeared on the Internet. After an emergency meeting that evening at EEG, the company declared that it would pursue the publisher of the image for this "irresponsible" and "malicious act". Gillian Chung was reportedly very distraught, had taken a leave of absence, and would not comment on the matter. Shaped by the denials, the initial media consensus was that the photographs were hoaxes. Nevertheless, the story became the headline of major local Hong Kong newspapers.
At 12:30 p.m. on 29 January, a higher resolution photograph appeared on the Internet. Journals noted the uncanny resemblance to Cecilia Cheung, especially her distinctive tattoo set. The photographs became the talk of the town, and local discussion forums became saturated. A low-resolution sequence (photos 4 to 7) of Chen with Chung appeared at 3 p.m.; a nude photograph of Cecilia Cheung appeared at 6 p.m. Journals established with known video footage that the photographs were taken inside Chen's residence. Nevertheless, Cheung's solicitors denounced the upload as a "malicious, immoral and irresponsible act".
China News Service (CNS) reported that more than 100 police officers had been sent to investigate the case, although Assistant Commissioner of Police (Crime) Vincent Wong Fook-chuen later declared that the investigating team consisted of 19 officers from the Commercial Crime Bureau. The police and photographic experts, who examined the images involving the first three female celebrities, said the photos were unlikely to have been composites.
The Hong Kong police moved on all Internet service providers to stamp out all local traces of the as yet unclassified "offensive material". The police met with more than 200 people responsible for major Hong Kong Web sites and BBS communities to urge them to delete the pictures on appearance "as they have the responsibility to stop crimes". Related discussion threads were progressively deleted. The police ordered several locally registered web sites and BBS management firms to submit information about their clients, and had retrieved the IP addresses of more than 30 Internet users who allegedly posted photographs.
"As of this evening, the police have made significant advances towards solving this malicious crime. As from the beginning I will continue to give the police my fullest cooperation to bring the perpetrators to justice.
At this time I am not able to discuss matters related to the case, but I do feel it is my obligation to accept full responsibility and take action to help both the victims and those associated with them to heal their wounds.
In this regard, I plead with everyone to please stop forwarding the images on the Internet. Furthermore, to completely rid the images from your computer...
Edison Chen, as posted to his blog"
After the exposure of the eighth photograph, Chen quietly left Hong Kong and flew to Boston to be with his girlfriend Vincy Yeung (楊永晴). On 4 February 2008, Chen released a 90-second video clip in English in which he apologised to those who may have been affected by the posting of photographs, without commenting on the authenticity of the photos.
On 6 February, a forum user leaked hundreds more photographs in defiance of the police. The uploader, dubbed by the public as "Kira", with reference to the protagonist in the manga "Death Note", stated he was not in Hong Kong, and promised to release a 32-minute video the next day. Two days later, three pictures of a young woman showering appeared on the Internet. The subject was rapidly identified as 18-year-old Vincy Yeung, Chen's girlfriend and niece of Albert Yeung, chairman of EEG. The police confirmed these three images were part of the batch of 1,300 photographs known to them. Having said there were only six participants, the police explained the appearance of a seventh, saying that her photographs had been erroneously grouped with one of the other females.
Gillian Chung was the first starlet to make a public appearance. After greeting fans at a New Year celebration on 11 February 2008, she delivered a brief statement to the press in which she apologised for the hurt caused to those around her by her silliness and naivety, saying that she "had now grown up". Emperor sought closure by stating that neither it nor any of its artists would be making any further statement about the incident. The press conference drew mixed response from the media and the public – some praised her courage in facing the public while others complained of her insincerity and her refusal to face the issue squarely. An Apple Daily commentary was particularly scathing about the hypocrisy of Chung and of her management company for only obliquely hinting at her "licentiousness". On 14 February, two new nude photographs surfaced. One photograph featured an unidentified woman fellating Chen, and another showed Rachel Ngan lying on a bed.
"...There is no doubt whoever obtained these photos have them uploaded on the Internet with malicious and deliberate intent. This matter has deteriorated to the extent that society as a whole has been affected by this. In this regard, I am deeply saddened. I would like now to apologize to all the people for all the suffering that has been caused and the problems that have arisen from this. I would like to apologize to all the ladies and to all their families for any harm or hurt that they have been feeling... Most importantly, I would like to say sorry to all the people of Hong Kong. ...
I know young people in Hong Kong look up to many figures in our society. And in this regard, I have failed. I failed as a role model.
Edison Chen, press conference 21 February 2008"
Chen returned to Hong Kong on 21 February, and held a press conference during which he asked for forgiveness and announced his departure from the Hong Kong entertainment industry "indefinitely". Chen confirmed that the photographs belonged to him and were private, and stated that they were obtained without his consent and then made public. His lawyer emphasised that reproduction whether in whole or in part would constitute copyright infringement.
On 26 February, as Chen entered his sixth consecutive day of police questioning, Sing Tao Daily revealed that a cache of computer disks and other storage devices containing in excess of 10,000 images were found from the search of Chen's residence. Police leaked news that five "new" celebrities had been identified by police, who gave only cryptic descriptions. Investigations were apparently hampered by Chen's caution, and by the lack of cooperation of the "new" female victims: some had left town, and one had already publicly denied her involvement. While the police suspected hidden motives, Chen denied that he had been blackmailed.
Definition of "obscenity"
While publishing an "obscene" (淫褻) article carries a maximum sentence of 3 years, an "indecent" (不雅) article only carries a maximum sentence of 12 months. Ming Pao revealed on 14 February that it had received interim classification from the Obscene Articles Tribunal (OAT) relating to five photographs it had submitted for opinion. Three of these photographs were classified as "indecent" while two were considered "obscene". The only photograph which was in circulation on 27 January, allegedly posted by Chung Yik-tin, was "indecent". Thus, the journal raised the question that Chung may have been charged with a wrong offense. Also, the law applies only after OAT's classification. Since the police arrested and charged Chung before classification, some viewed the arrest as unlawful. An Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong questioned whether an amended charge of "Publishing an Indecent Article" applied to photographs uploaded onto the Internet.