Attempt to boost copyright defence

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 June, 2011, 12:00am

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Realising that the law always lags a step behind the latest technology, the government is seeking to write a copyright-protection law for online media that will not go out of date.

The Intellectual Property Department is proposing a change in the law, which targets transmission models specified in an ordinance. But since the introduction of new media, such as BitTorrent and YouTube, authorities have been unsure whether they can prosecute.

Now the government aims to make its law 'technology-neutral'. Infringement by any kind of electronic transmission - existing or not yet invented - should be covered.

'Whenever there was a new medium, we had to amend the law... The law was always behind technological developments,' the department's director, Peter Cheung, said.

The government has experienced problems with streaming websites such as YouTube, where users do not download complete copies of videos that infringe copyright when viewed on their computers. Although authorities say the existing law should cover the sites, there has not been a successful prosecution of a copyright infringer who uploaded a video on streaming websites.

Under a proposed amendment, an internet user who puts up copyrighted materials without authorisation of the copyright holder in any medium would face civil liability. He could also face criminal prosecution if the infringement was for profit or caused significant damage to the copyright owner. The maximum penalty would be four years' jail.

Most internet users who upload such material do not do so for profit. To help the courts judge the seriousness of their behaviour, the government would provide a list of criteria to consider - including the method of transmission, the number or amount of copyrighted material distributed and its value, Cheung said.

'Even in Australia or [Britain], there are no specific terms to protect netizens,' Cheung said. 'We seek to take a step further by setting a list of criteria to guide the court.'

The sharing of hyperlinks of videos that infringe copyright would not be an offence, he said. Only the person who uploads the original material would be held liable.

However, even the uploading of parody videos could constitute an offence if the videos made use of copyrighted footage or songs.

Online service providers such as YouTube and discussion forums would not be held liable for infringements, provided they notified users who infringed copyright and removed such content after complaints from copyright holders.

Internet Society chairman Charles Mok supported the inclusion of internet service providers in such 'safe harbours', but said providers would have to go into details of notification arrangements with copyrighted holders.

The amendment bill, gazetted today, will be discussed in the Legislative Council on June 15.