Bill puts internet freedom to the test

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 June, 2011, 12:00am


Any brief surf of the internet will reveal a flourishing pool of users with immense creativity. Social media outlets like YouTube have been flooded with entertaining video clips, including some political parodies of senior officials and tycoons caught up in controversies. Some productions are of high quality. Some only involve re-editing video footage or the reproduction of Canto-pop songs with new lyrics. But there are fears these works could soon be outlawed under a copyright amendment bill to be introduced this month. The government, outrun by rapid technological advances, is seeking to extend existing copyright protection to cover all forms of electronic communication - a change it says will keep the law permanently up to date. Under the plan, anyone who publishes copyrighted materials in any medium without the authorisation of the holder would face civil liability. Infringement for profit-making or where significant damage is suffered by the copyright owner is liable to criminal prosecution. Such a catch-all approach may be handy for enforcement agencies. No doubt anyone who now takes advantage of the existing grey area may have to think twice in future.

But concerns that freedom of expression may be restricted are not unfounded. Officials in charge of the bill have admitted that people who uploaded modified copyrighted materials for political parody would also be liable if there was significant damage to a copyright holder. Some producers have rightly questioned whether their freedom of expression will be curbed. For instance, would it be illegal for someone to poke fun at a political party by putting satirical lyrics into the party's song and upload it for sharing on YouTube?

Any attempt to regulate the use of new technology is not easy. The internet connects us to a sea of information and knowledge. It is also a platform for nurturing creativity. It is essential that the law should not strengthen the protection of copyright material at the expense of creativity and free flow of information.