P2P file-sharing may be criminalised

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2006, 12:00am

People who make unauthorised downloads of copyrighted works from the internet could face criminal prosecution under a controversial proposal released yesterday.

The idea, revealed by Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology Joseph Wong Wing-ping, was swiftly condemned. Internet users urged fellow users to oppose the proposal, while internet service providers (ISPs) urged all internet users to vocally express their views about the proposal, one of several in a consultation paper.

The paper contains a further review of copyright protection issues raised by peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing programs. A government source denied that proposals in the paper were concessions to the demands of copyright holders. Criminalising unauthorised downloading was not the only option.

Mr Wong told a media briefing: 'We hope to strike a good balance between copyright owners' interests, individual users' privacy and the free flow of information while maintaining comprehensive and efficient internet service.

'There is no connection between this document and the restriction of free flow of information. We are open to all suggestions and we will consider all views.'

The consultation period began yesterday and end in April. Mr Wong said the period was longer than usual because 'this is a complex exercise'.

Of the six areas in the paper, the most controversial is to consider whether to make unauthorised downloading of copyrighted materials a criminal offence. Under current law, such downloading does not constitute a criminal offence.

The paper sets out three options - criminalising all unauthorised downloading, making unauthorised downloading using P2P file-sharing a criminal offence, or criminalising unauthorised downloading that results in direct commercial advantage or is on a big scale.

The paper also examined the role of ISPs and how to help copyright owners take civil action. One suggestion was to provide a mechanism for copyright owners to compel ISPs to disclose their clients' information, instead of requiring copyright owners to take court orders. Another was to require ISPs to keep logs for at least two years.

Copyright holders welcomed the consultation. John Chong Ching, spokesman of the Hong Kong Film Industry Response Group, said it was unfair to make copyright owners spend an enormous amount of money pursuing civil court claims against illegal downloaders. 'The suggestions are reasonable,' he said.

Ricky Fung, Hong Kong head of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, said criminalising unauthorised downloading should be the last resort.

York Mok, chairman of the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association said the suggestions were demanding. 'Keeping logs will generate higher operation costs. Criminalising downloading might affect information traffic because it's hard for users to tell whether a file is copyrighted or not,' he said.