Copyright review good news for music fans

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 October, 2007, 12:00am

Commerce officials are considering granting exemptions to the common yet unlawful practice of copying songs from CD into MP3 files for private use after Australia legalised the move last year.

The new law passed in Australia allows music fans to make song copies regardless of the format, provided they are solely made for private and domestic use. It also restricts people uploading the copied files onto the internet, but they are allowed to be played on devices such as car sound systems or personal computers.

Under the Copyright Ordinance in Hong Kong, unauthorised copying of a work in any material forms or stored in any medium by electronic means would constitute an infringement of copyright.

'Format-shifting appears on its face to be civilly actionable in Hong Kong,' said Michael Pendleton, an intellectual property law expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He said the situation would be clearer if the government followed Australia's example and amended the ordinance.

A spokesman for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said they had been closely monitoring recent developments in intellectual property policy overseas.

'For the new time and format shifting exceptions introduced by the Australian government, we will consider including this subject for public consultation in our next round of review,' the spokesman said.

But the music industry was sceptical about relaxation of copyright law.

Ricky Fung Tim-chee, chief executive of International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (Hong Kong Group), said intellectual property issues should be decided by copyright holders and determined by market forces.

'The grey areas are hard to define. Is it still under the definition of domestic use if I copy the music to my portable device and lend it to my friends?' he said. He said the music industry had never taken legal action against individuals who format-shift music, given it was 'too hard to enforce'.

Ip Iam-chong of Hong Kong In-media, an advocate for the concept of 'fair use', said it was time for the government to step up and protect the users' interests.

'The copyright ordinance in Hong Kong has been in favour of the copyright owners,' Mr Ip said. 'Fair use is rejected by the industry and they have simply equalled property rights to copyrights.'