Rethink copyright bill, say artists

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 May, 2012, 12:00am

Hong Kong's creative minds have joined forces to demand that the government rethink the controversial copyright amendment bill and listen to the needs of artists in drafting the law.

Representatives of the arts and cultural community said yesterday that the government had only sought opinions from a commercial perspective, while artists who created works the law is supposed to protect have not been consulted.

At present, copyright theft is only a criminal offence if it is done for profit or has a significant impact on the copyright holder. The bill would extend that definition, and some campaigners fear it could criminalise works of satire, parody or tribute. Its passage through the Legislative Council has been delayed for two to three weeks after a lawmaker tabled more then 1,300 amendments.

'The cultural perspective must be taken into account, but Hong Kong's discussion of the copyright law has never considered cultural factors,' said veteran lyricist Calvin Poon Yuen-leung.

'Why is this law only looked after by the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau? asked Poon. 'Shouldn't it be discussed later when the culture bureau [proposed by chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying] is set up?' Poon last month won the best original song prize at the Hong Kong Film Awards.

More than 30 artists attended a press conference yesterday to express concerns about the law's impact on creative freedom. Many said they were unable to fully comprehend the implications of the law.

Composer Adrian Chow said he struggled to understand the law, despite having studied law at university. 'That's why it needs to be discussed carefully,' he said.

He said industry associations such as the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), which represents the recording industry, and the Composers and Authors Society of Hong Kong had claimed to represent the interests of artists as the legislation was debated.

'But they have never consulted me. How can this government say that they have done enough consultation? Does the government really have a firm grasp of public opinion?' Chow said.

Poon, also a filmmaker, said he hoped the law would be studied carefully as it was complicated and problems with it would not be solved simply by exempting parodies, or any creation based on an original, copyrighted work.

Controversy surrounding the bill is largely based on penalties for anyone who distributes copyrighted material extensively enough to, in the words of the Commerce Bureau's briefing to Legco, 'affect prejudicially the copyright owners'.

Internet users fear this clause will lead to them being punished for sharing satirical, creative works based on posters, literature, music or films on a digital platform.

Internet users have dubbed it the 'Article 23 of the internet', after proposed national security legislation which prompted massive protests in 2003.

More than 1,700 people have signed an online petition initiated by the culture sector against the bill.

Poon, a copyright owner, said that a blanket exemption for works of parody or pastiche would also be unfair. 'Rights holders and managers are under a lot of pressure too,' he said.

If the bill is not approved by the end of the legislative session in July, it will have to be tabled again by the new administration.


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