Law revisions give more protection over parodies

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 April, 2012, 12:00am


Creators of parodies will not be sued for copyright infringement unless their works have undermined the earnings of the original authors, according to proposed revisions to an intellectual property rights bill.

The proposal reduces the chances of lampoonists and satirists facing criminal prosecution. But lawmakers and internet users remain unconvinced amid public worries that it will curb freedom of expression.

Lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah said the latest changes provide reasonable protection on parodies.

'It is usually hard to prove if a parody causes economic loss,' Tong said. 'If someone can indeed prove significant economic harm is done, he is justified in taking legal action.'

Currently, it is a criminal offence if the infringement is for profit or when it leads to significant damage, and if certain softwares are used to download a copyrighted work.

The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau is looking to extend the scope of legislation to cover any kind of electronic media, including YouTube.

The court should look into whether 'more than trivial' economic harm was caused to the copyright owner, the bureau said in a paper submitted to the Legislative Council house committee. It should also consider if the infringing copy, if distributed online, would amount to a substitute of the original work, it said.

Internet users say it would be hard to define what amounts to significant damage. Parody creators, who make use of copyrighted material including songs and movie posters to make fun of politicians and entertainers, are particularly concerned they would face criminal liability.

Joe Lam Cho-shun of HK Golden .com, a discussion forum on which spoofs often feature, said some parodies are so popular that they could harm the market of the original work.

'Recently, someone made a parody out of a poster of the Link which promotes its care for small shops. He changed the title from 'collective memory' into some vulgar words,' he said by way of illustration.

It was an attempt to speak against the Link, which many deemed an evil against small shops. In the end, the Link stopped its promotion - which may be considered economic harm in the amendment, he said.

A bureau spokesman said it would to be difficult to prosecute a case if the original author did not suffer economic loss.