Public consultation should balance copyright and right to parody

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 July, 2013, 3:41am

The government was forced to abandon a controversial copyright law last summer amid fears that it would gag freedom of expression and creativity. Dubbed the "Article 23 of the internet" - a reference to the much-criticised national security law shelved 10 years ago - the amendment bill was seen as a threat to political parodies and mash-up works, increasingly popular genres in social media. It was sensibly shelved at the last minute for a wider consultation later.

A year has passed and the issue is now back on the agenda. It is good that a public consultation has been launched to see whether parodies should be exempt from legal liabilities, as long as they do not make money or damage copyright owners' economic interest. Unlike last year when both the government and legislature were due for a change, the current atmosphere is less politically charged. A three-month consultation can provide the platform for rational discussion.

Like it or not, pastiche and satire have become an integral part of our political and cultural life. While those who are targeted may not be amused, these works can be entertaining and creative. Not only do they help to nurture creativity and add to the city's vibrancy, diversity and tolerance, it also enhances people's interest in public affairs.

That said, there should be limits as to how far modified works could go. Hong Kong prides itself as a place with rule of law and copyright protection. Owners have legitimate rights to seek damage if the infringement causes them real losses. The question is how to strike a balance between freedom of expression and copyright protection.

Hong Kong is not alone in exploring the way ahead. Advanced countries like the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia have since moved to tackle the issue. The consultation document lists overseas experience and provides three options on criminal and civil liability exemptions. The government needs to work closely with the community to come up with a regulatory regime acceptable to most people.