Get copyright bill right, then vote

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 July, 2012, 12:00am


Various criteria affect whether or not a piece of legislation is ripe for enactment. Public support aside, the scope and the timing are also important. However, the controversial copyright amendment bill that languished in Legco appeared to meet neither. It is therefore hardly surprising that the government decided to shelve the bill.

The government is right to update the existing copyright protection regime so that it will cover works communicated via all electronic means. But there are growing fears that such a catch-all approach may restrict creativity and freedom of expression, in particular political parodies made with film posters or popular songs. The series of street protests earlier against the so-called Article 23 of the internet - a reference to the unpopular national security law in 2003 - show the bill lacks public support.

With a big backlog of bills to clear before the summer break, there is always the danger that some legislative proposals cannot be squeezed through. That the copyright bill has become the first casualty is regrettable, but understandable. Ideally, the government should address critics concerns and seek the bill's passage in the current term. In reality, however, the chances of it passing are increasingly remote. Had the government insisted on presenting the bill for a final vote, not only would it have provoked a public outcry, there is also no guarantee that pro-government parties would have backed the bill. September's Legco election, after all, is likely to deter parties from supporting unpopular bills. Worse, it might weigh down the already heavy agenda and risk derailing the government revamp being pushed by new chief executive Leung Chun-ying. Some lawmakers have vowed to delay the restructuring by presenting 1,000 amendments to the copyright bill.

The bill will be reintroduced to the new Legco after October. More efforts are needed to address concerns over its possible impact on freedoms and creativity. It is imperative the new government get it right before putting it to a vote again.