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Hong Kong copyright bill

It is in Hong Kong’s interest for the copyright bill to be passed

With a government ‘ultimatum’ that the controversial legislation must be passed by next Friday or be shelved, it is time for an end to the pan-democrat filibuster

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 February, 2016, 12:11am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 February, 2016, 12:11am

No legislation has experienced a more stumbling process than the copyright amendment bill. Having been delayed by pan-democrat filibustering for months, the blueprint is to be abandoned if it cannot get through the legislature by next Friday. Whether the pan-democrats will back down in the wake of the “ultimatum” by the government remains to be seen. But the bill is the outcome of years of deliberations. It would be a shame if it cannot be passed.

The government’s position is understandable. Of the 75 hours spent scrutinising the bill since late last year, nearly half was wasted on headcounts – a tactic by pan-democrats to stall the vote. The lack of quorum has already seen five of the seven Legislative Council meetings prematurely suspended.

Dubbed the “Internet Article 23”, a reference to the national security law, the copyright bill has aroused concerns from netizens that political parodies and other creative works would be restricted. The bill was first mooted in 2006, but was shelved in 2012. The current blueprint was revived in 2014 with a package of safeguards that officials believe struck the balance between copyright protection and freedom of expression.

The pan-democrats may think they can claim credit in scuttling a draconian law. But as the government has repeatedly stressed, the bill is an essential step to help Hong Kong catch up with modern international copyright protection standards. The strong reaction in the industry to the possible shelving of the bill is a reminder that their interests cannot be ignored.

The government is being realistic rather than yielding to the pan-democrats. With some 20 bills waiting to be cleared before the current Legco term finishes in the summer, including the government’s budget and some livelihood-related ones, the council’s business cannot afford to be bogged down by deadlock over a single bill.

That the government has been forced to take this position is regrettable. But the fallout was caused by filibustering. It is ironic that the pan-democrats accuse commerce minister Greg So Kam-leung of being irresponsible in giving up the bill. He has made clear from the very beginning that the government would not hastily adopt amendments pushed by netizens and pan-democrats at the eleventh hour. There are still two and a half days of Legco sitting to go before the commerce chief will officially move to halt the scrutiny of the bill. It is in the city’s interest to pass it before then.