Copyright law no laughing matter

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2012, 12:00am


Spoof songs, photos and videos have provided much humour and social commentary on the internet, but the laughter could soon end in Hong Kong. The government is moving to overhaul its existing copyright ordinance with the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2011.

Critics say the new bill threatens to suppress freedom of speech and the press. Under it, sharing photos, videos and other information without permission may lead to criminal prosecution, and parodies could also be ruled an infringement of copyright.

Internet users have drafted an online petition, saying the bill could kill creativity and urging the government to make an exception.

Despite the outcry, the government does not plan to exempt parodies from legal liability when it amends the copyright law. The government says it is surprised by the complaints and there is not enough time to change the planned amendment.

Parodies of famous songs have been part of local entertainment for years. But under the proposed law, spoofs, such as those that helped make the popular variety show Enjoy Yourself Tonight famous, could be ruled illegal.

Proposed revisions to the intellectual property rights bill protect creators of parodies from copyright-infringement suits unless their works have damaged the earnings of the original authors.

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

But some say the changes do not offer enough protection.

Joe Lam Cho-shun of the online discussion forum HK Golden, which often features spoofs, said some parodies become so popular that they could be judged to have harmed the original work.

Lam cited one satirist who used the Link Reit's own poster to mock its campaign promoting its concern for small shops.

Some thought the landlord's campaign was hypocritical because they believe its practices had hurt small shops.

In the end, Link decided to stop its campaign, which could be viewed as an economic harm under the amendment, Lam said.