Proposed file-sharing policies spark debate

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 January, 2010, 12:00am

A government proposal is suggesting website operators monitor the sharing of copyrighted material on their platforms, but industry members say it is not feasible to check all the content posted by their users.

In proposed amendments to the Copyright Ordinance, the government suggests making it a crime for internet users to share copyrighted material, such as videos and sound clips, online.

A paper submitted to the Legislative Council in November said 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'.

It also suggests establishing liability for operators of online services, including internet platforms, discussion boards and social networks, when content posted by their subscribers is found to violate copyright laws. Posting even a part of these materials - which cover text, graphics, videos and sound clips - can constitute an infringement.

Under the proposals, online service providers can limit their liability by taking action to deter users from engaging in unlawful activities by warning them and removing their posts if they don't comply. However, online service providers said it would be too costly to look at every message and link posted by their users. The number of such postings could reach up to a million per day, they said.

Alive! Media and Communications, which manages the popular computer discussion board, said it was impossible to check every message. The average number of new messages posted at the forum per day was about 60,000, said Joe Lam Cho-shum, the company's chief executive.

The site only allows the posting of text messages - videos or sound clips are banned. But since users can post text links to videos or sound clips on other websites, administrators need to identify them as well, Lam said.

He added it was difficult for operators to determine if a text or picture violates copyright regulations.

'Is the reposting of a 10-second segment of a video or a sound clip on a forum enough to constitute infringement? Sometimes it ends up benefiting their owners with the online circulation. We need to clarify to what extent the distribution of [such] material constitutes an offence,' he said.

Lam said he now had two Web administrators to monitor content posted at the forum, but would probably need to hire more staff when the new amendments became law.

Francis Fong Po-kiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Interactive Marketing, said online forum operators had received warnings from authorities over copyright infringement by their subscribers. He said small-scale website operators could not afford the potentially high legal fees if they were prosecuted over such cases, and some may have to shut down their businesses.

Internet Professional Association vice-president Dr Eric Cheng Kam-chung said many people had no resources to identify the copyright status of a file. Without a clear definition, these people may fall into the trap of committing an offence, Cheng said. He said the government should consider setting up a copyright registry for the public.

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