Plan to widen law on digital copyright

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 November, 2009, 12:00am

Web users who make copyrighted music or video available to others on the internet could in future face criminal charges if the actions harm the copyright owners.

But the government has proposed to relax rules on 'media shifting', under which the common practice of copying music from a CD to MP3 format for use in a player such as an iPod would no longer be outlawed.

However, converting a DVD movie for use in a portable player would still be illegal.

These measures are contained in proposals produced after two rounds of public consultations held since December 2006, aimed at overhauling the much-criticised Copyright Ordinance in light of the rapidly changing digital environment.

A paper submitted to the Legislative Council says criminal sanctions should be available against those 'who initiate unauthorised communication of copyright works to the public', when it involves a business purpose or when it 'affects prejudicially the copyright owners'.

But it also said the government would 'consider bringing in appropriate exceptions to facilitate the reasonable use of copyright works'.

The proposals move beyond a controversial previous proposal specifically aimed at so-called streaming technology - the transfer of multimedia data as a steady and continuous stream, allowing users to view or listen to a work online - and which had sparked criticism that providers of such services were being unfairly singled out.

The new measures are expected to offer a broader definition of unauthorised communications including streaming.

The paper also said copyright owners and online service providers such as Web hosts, internet forums and broadband operators had reached an agreement for the first time to help enforce legal liabilities in digital copyright protection.

To avoid legal liability themselves, the providers have accepted a code of practice under which they will send a message to Web users who infringe copyright, advising them that piracy is unlawful and their activities will be detected.

Internet Society Hong Kong Chapter chairman Charles Mok said it could be hard to judge the impact on copyright owners, and he was worried the measures would hinder creativity on the Web. 'Sometimes Web users do not aim to infringe the rights of anyone when they edit a copyrighted clip or music file for fun,' he said, adding that more clarifications would be needed.

He also said the exclusion of video files from the relaxed rules on media shifting was unreasonable.

Ricky Fung Tim-chee, chief executive of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (Hong Kong Group), said amendments to the ordinance were long overdue and there should be no more delays.

He said the global music industry had seen a 60 per cent to 80 per cent drop in business from the mid-90s, largely due to piracy.

He said the group would push for more stringent measures against online piracy, such as an internet cut-off for repeat copyright infringers.

Hong Kong, Kowloon and New Territories Motion Picture Industry Association chief executive Brian Chung Wai-hung said the proposals offered much-needed improvements to the ordinance, adding that service providers should also play a role in copyright protection.

Internet Service Providers Association chairman York Mok Sui-wah said the proposals could help them avoid legal liabilities when they co-operated in the battle against copyright infringers. But it could also add unexpected manpower and financial burdens. He said internet service providers would prefer self-regulation by a voluntary code.

Business hit

The global music industry has seen a drop in business since the mid-90s, largely due to piracy

The drop in takings is estimated to be up to: 80%