In the light of vocal opposition last year, the Government now wants to amend the provision in the Copyright Ordinance that criminalises the unauthorised photocopying of books and newspapers. But in trying to appease the critics, especially the business lobby, officials should take care not to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Much of the opposition aired when the provision became effective last year was founded on an inadequate understanding of the importance of protecting intellectual property rights. It did not help that most newspapers had not established copyright licensing arrangements.
But the Hong Kong Newspaper Society has since set up a one-stop licensing body, the Hong Kong Copyright Licensing Association, removing the need for users of copyrighted materials to seek permission from different papers. A similar mechanism for book publishers has long been established.
When amendments were made to the Copyright Ordinance, the publishing industry had not asked for a blanket provision criminalising all forms of unauthorised photocopying. Since the row erupted, its stance has been that only serious violations should be treated as a crime.
The Government should consider amending the law to penalise only those who knowingly and consistently reproduce copyright materials without authorisation and in large volumes, causing actual losses to the copyright holders.
This would remove the threat of prosecution for members of the public who occasionally make a few copies of newspaper articles or book chapters for reference or sharing with others.
The Government is also considering lifting the ban on parallel imports of music CDs and videos because of concerns raised by authorised distributors.
But it is hard to see why that should be done. It has always been easy to circumvent territorial distribution arrangements, such as by placing a mail order to a country where the product is sold more cheaply. In the age of the Internet, this has become much easier. It is the music industry that needs to review its restrictive distribution regime.