PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 June, 2011, 12:00am


Copyright bill aims for balance

I refer to your editorial ('Bill puts internet freedom to the test', June 7), which quite rightly highlighted the importance of striking a reasonable balance between protecting copyright and promoting creativity on the one hand, and safeguarding the free flow of information in the digital environment on the other hand.

We have been mindful of this challenge when drafting our [copyright amendment] bill.

One of our key proposals is to introduce an exclusive right for copyright owners to communicate their works to the public through any mode of electronic transmission. This right, instead of being tied to any specific form of communication technology (such as broadcasting, inclusion in a cable programme or making available copies of copyright works to the public on the internet), is technology-neutral.

With this right, copyright works would be protected irrespective of the form of communication technology through which they were distributed. This, we believe, is conducive to the further healthy development of our creative industry.

Some internet users have expressed concern that online parodies and mash-up works would be outlawed by the bill. Let me assure them that the balance that currently exists between copyright protection and the free flow of information across the internet will remain unchanged in future.

Under the bill, a person who, without the authorisation of the copyright owners, communicates copyright works to the public through any electronic means renders himself liable to civil action. Where such an act of unauthorised communication of copyright works to the public is made (a) to such an extent that it prejudicially affects the copyright owners; or (b) for profit, it falls into the criminal net.

The point where civil liability crosses the line to criminality is exactly the same as that under the existing Copyright Ordinance. In other words, the dissemination of any mash-up works that does not amount to an infringement that is made to such extent as to prejudicially affect the copyright owners will not, as at present, fall into the criminal net.

Not only are the criminal sanctions referred to above in alignment with present provisions in the ordinance; they are not unique. Other common law jurisdictions, Australia and Britain, for instance, introduced a similar communication right into their copyright laws some years ago, with corresponding criminal sanctions against unauthorised communication made to 'such an extent that [it] prejudicially affects the copyright owners'.

To give greater legal certainty to what amounts to 'such an extent that [it] prejudicially affects the copyright owners', we have proposed in the bill a non- exhaustive list of factors for the court to take into account. One of these is the economic prejudice caused to the copyright owner, including the effect on the potential market for or value of the original copyright work.

The inclusion of such a list of factors in the law, coupled with suitable public education, would, we believe, go a long way towards easing concerns about possible inadvertent breaches of the law.

Christopher K. B. Wong, deputy secretary for commerce and economic development (commerce and industry)

Simplify approval of additions

I hope the government can put its new policy in place on 'illegal structures' sensibly and apply it across the board, whether it is a village house or tower block.

Nobody should be allowed to add an extra storey to his or her roof, or an extra room to the ground floor. However, there is no reason why a simple canopy (that is, not concrete) should not be allowed, or even a small glassed-in area, such as a balcony or porch.

There should be a simple registration process for additional works, as simple as downloading a form and sending it off with a photograph or plan. The approval should be fast, transparent and based on two simple criteria. Question 1 - is the structure dangerous? If yes, then down it comes; if no, then move on to the second question: is it an enclosed space of more than 100 (or 200) square feet? If the answer is no, then approval should be automatic.

As all canopies, enclosed balconies and small glass porches would answer no to both questions, they would be allowed.

If the approval process is any more complicated, there simply will never be the manpower in the relevant departments to deal with the sheer number of structures in question.

Bert Young, Chai Wan

Keep smaller flats for HK residents

The effects of the measures recently announced by the government to tackle the problem of property prices in Hong Kong behaving like a wild horse will be short-lived.

Anthony Cheung Bing-leung's article ('Out of control', June 14) reinforced my belief that confining the sale of some small and medium-sized flats to Hong Kong people holding permanent identity cards is the most effective way to stop property prices becoming unaffordable for many.

This, along with the immediate resumption of the Home Ownership Scheme, regular land sales and rezoning land for residential use, will ensure a soft landing for the property sector.

C. W. Tso, Tai Po

Curb influx of mainland homebuyers

Before 1997, many Hongkongers looked forward to integration with the mainland. Now, perhaps, many are worried that there is just too much integration, and they point to the overheating property market.

Property prices in the city have reached insane levels, thanks mainly to the continual influx of capital from the mainland.

Many people are already finding it difficult to afford a flat, and this problem is exacerbated when small numbers of well-off mainlanders come here to buy homes, either for their own use or for speculation. Beijing should stop these people disrupting Hong Kong's property market.

Chan Chin-pang, Tseung Kwan O

Westerners' perks part of city's fabric

Julia Kwong's letter ('NETs are drain on resources', June 9) extends the debate about whether schools should employ native English-speaking or local 'multilingual' teachers to all 'imported Western workers'.

In arguing that Hong Kong 'must learn to stand on its own as an international city without relying on imported Western workers' and that 'foreign workers... presume to possess special privileges over locals', the letter raises important questions for the future.

The imported foreign workers in question are not, of course, the thousands of domestic helpers or service workers imported annually into Hong Kong but the 'Western workers' that many locals feel are here only for the high salaries and low tax rates.

The NETs are an easy target for those who are justifiably aggrieved by the practice of unfairly rewarding 'Western workers' in positions that should be open to all. Ms Kwong says Hong Kong must aim to be an international city like Geneva or Beijing.

However, since Hong Kong, unlike these other cities, gained its international reputation precisely because of a colonial history that made it into something of a tax haven, these economic disparities are built into its social fabric. Now that it has moved on politically, it remains to be seen whether it can retain its international appeal while righting the economic practices of a bygone era.

Michael O'Sullivan, Sai Kung

NETs and locals both play a role

Surely it's a no-brainer for English language educators throughout Hong Kong to appreciate the complementary role all play in supporting and strengthening student learning, especially in our modern context of time constraints, stress and distractions.

Should individual school systems and cultures allow for it, then all educators can bring something positive to the staff and classroom.

Native English-speaking teachers (NETs) can advance pedagogical innovation and clarification of effective usage, while local English teachers can enlighten through their awareness of common difficulties associated with the acquisition of a second language.

It is up to school administrations to facilitate such sharing.

NET perks and local teachers' promotion opportunities? NET allowances and locals' family and peer support? It's all relative.

I urge all educators (of which I am one) to continue to work together for the betterment of Hong Kong's youth.

Barry Dalton, Sai Kung