Deliver us from copyrights

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2012, 12:00am



'I'm going to miss you so much Hong Kong!' said pop singer Lady Gaga at the last of her four gigs at Asia World-Arena last week. But it turns out that not even Mother Monster has the right to share her Hong Kong memories with her fans. A local copyright watchdog forced the removal of a YouTube video showing fan footage of her Born This Way Ball tour soon after it was 'shared' by Lady Gaga on her Facebook and Twitter pages.

During last week's concert she urged Hongkongers to think big. '[It's] more than a dream come true to have four sold-out shows [in Hong Kong],' said Gaga, who started out performing in New York bars just a few years ago.

'Now I'm [touring] arenas and stadiums. No dream is too big, Hong Kong!'

Her voice was worn out but she still managed to stage a high-powered concert. She danced on towering high-heels while showing off her soulful, powerful voice with songs from the Born This Way album. She also performed older fan favourites like Poker Face and Bad Romance.

The words 'Hong Kong' were on her lips throughout the show as fans showered her with hats, jackets and other gifts.

'I'm so sad to leave Hong Kong. I've been having such a good time. It's been so beautiful here,' she said.

Gaga has more than 50 million 'likes' on Facebook and nearly 24 million Twitter followers. She shared new photos and provided links to uploads by fans during her week-long stay in Hong Kong.

She described one YouTube video feed called Lady Gaga - Gaga was bearing babies as 'cool fan video footage of Born This Way Ball'. The video drew more than 100,000 hits, but was taken down 'due to a copyright claim by Hong Kong Recording Industry Alliance Limited'.

The alliance handles copyright issues for recording companies. It did not respond to a request for comment.


The government has postponed the Legislative Council debate on the controversial copyright amendment bill. But it has stopped short of demands for the change in the law to be shelved completely. The change has been proposed by pro-government lawmakers and the pan-democrats.

The bill would make all copyright infringement a criminal offence. Under it, sharing photos, videos and other information without permission may lead to criminal prosecution, and parodies could also be ruled an infringement of copyright. A parody is a humorous version of an original literary or artistic work.

The three- to four-week delay was announced by Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Greg So Kam-leung. It casts doubt on whether the bill will be approved by the end of the Legco session in mid-July.

The Legco House Committee requested the postponement of the second and third readings of the bill after lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip of the pro-democracy group People Power filed more than 1,300 amendments. So insisted the bill would not hinder freedom of speech.

Miriam Lau Kin-yee, chairwoman of the Liberal Party, urged the government to exempt works of satire from the bill unless they caused commercial loss to people whose work has been appropriated for satire.

Currently, it's a criminal offence to infringe copyrights for profit or in ways that cause damage to copyright holders.


Who benefits from the amendment

SCMP columnist Jake van der Kamp thinks there is nothing wrong with the copyright amendment. The problem, he says, is that it is not intended to benefit Hong Kong.

He thinks the ordinance was written for the benefit of foreign, mostly American, copyright holders.

'Thousands of more important matters face our legislators, yet American lawyers and diplomats can jump the queue at any time to fine-tune our laws to their interests. Don't ever underrate the power over our bureaucrats of that squat fortress on Garden Road,' he says.

Copyright needs to strike a fine balance. At any time, the interests of originators of creative works must be set on a scale against the interests of the audience/readership of these works as well as those of the creators of similar works.

Only when the two are in balance is creativity properly rewarded. And only then does freedom of expression remain unhindered.

But in recent years this balance has tipped in favour of copyright holders.

In the US, in particular, the notion has caught hold that 'my idea', as registered by the first person to lay claim to it, carries the same ownership rights as 'my finger'.

That's how the 'Disney Law' came into being. It extends copyright of corporate authorship to Disney for 120 years, preventing anyone from drawing Mickey Mouse unless Disney approves.

A similar law here would effectively target kindergarten students in Hong Kong for breach of copyright.

Such limitations would not benefit individual creators. Few authors of copyright works get any copyright benefits. These rights are often signed over to big media companies. Copyright is now an investment business.

Critics say that if foreign lawyers are allowed to dictate local copyright laws, the city will not only be limited in the range of available creative offerings, citizens will also be grossly overcharged for them.

Striking a balance between copyright protection and creativity

The copyright amendment bill is well-intentioned, says Charles Mok, founding chairman of Internet Society Hong Kong Chapter, an industry watchdog. But he is concerned over clauses that will expose artists who modify copyrighted material for parody.

'Its pitfalls for parody have spoiled the proposed legislation, which should otherwise have been a welcome move to keep Hong Kong up to date with the international development of copyright protection,' he said.

He said the government is justified in seeking to update existing copyright laws in an era of rapid technological advances. But the catch-all approach - which would cover copyrighted works communicated via all electronic means - has been seen as a threat to creativity and free expression.

The bill offers too much protection for copyright holders at the expense of everyone else. Far from meeting the realities of the electronic media age, the bill is trying to extend a kind of pre-multimedia-age copyright protection to intellectual and creative properties in cyber media.

It seeks to criminalise 'unauthorised communication of copyright works' if it affects copyright owners.

The law is a particular concern to activists who engage in political parodies and mash-up works against the rich and powerful. Both are popular genres on the internet and in social media.

Much entertaining parody has been created over scandals linked to Henry Tang Ying-yen and Leung Chun-ying during the recent Chief Executive election race.

Such works help raise people's political awareness and add to Hong Kong's vibrant political and cultural scene.

Officials insist the bill does not target such derivative works. Yet it will inevitably have a chilling effect on people's creativity and freedom of expression.

Striking a balance between creativity and copyright is key.


'Creative freedom belongs to the city. The government should not interfere'

Jessey Tsang Tsui-shan, winner of the best new director at this year's Hong Kong Film Awards

'A complete exemption of secondary creation creates a conflict of interest, because, technically, secondary creation violates the copyright of the original content creator'

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, Civic Party legislator and veteran barrister

'So do I have to ask [Leonardo] da Vinci [for permission]? [The bureaucrats] act as if they came from Mars'

Ger Choi, chairwoman of the Arts Development Council's arts education group, in response to a proposed new amendment that would require artists to ask permission from copyright holders if they planned to publish a work based on another copyrighted work