Copyright bill does not fit the digital age

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 April, 2012, 12:00am


The government's copyright amendment bill has been dubbed the Article 23 of the cyber world. It may just suffer the same fate as the original.

The bill offers too much protection for copyright holders at the expense of everyone else. It is true that copyright laws need updating to meet the realities of the electronic media age. However, far from achieving that aim, the bill is trying to extend the kind of copyright protection of a pre-multimedia age to intellectual and creative properties in cyber media. It seeks to criminalise 'unauthorised communication of copyright works' if it affects 'prejudicially the copyright owners'.

That is a step backwards. The bill is now close to being passed in the legislature and that has galvanised internet users against it. Pan-democrat politicians are also having second thoughts. They had earlier reached an agreement to support it provided there were enough safeguards to exempt fair and creative use from prosecution. They should stall for consultation and changes at least until the next legislature as the present session ends in July.

Many internet users are focusing too narrowly on the danger of the bill prohibiting political parodies and satires. Such redesigns of popular cartoons and movie characters and rewriting of pop song lyrics have reached mainstream media during the chief executive race. But that's a minor concern. Internet and digital technologies have redefined the creative process by which existing designs and images are often reproduced, remixed, mashed up and reworked to produce new icons and messages.

Such works could become digital 'theft' under the bill. But such theft is not the same as physical theft, whatever the entertainment industry says. When you copy something, the copyright holder does not lose it, as you would if you steal a car. Even if the copyright holder suffers a loss, it cannot be as injurious because it is unclear someone would buy that song or movie if he had to pay for it. We need new ways to quantify economic losses from digital theft. There is enough public doubt to justify delaying the bill's passage.