Hong Kong's outdated copyright laws a barrier to development

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 April, 2014, 5:16am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 April, 2014, 5:16am

Last year, the government announced its plan to promote Hong Kong as an intellectual property trading hub. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) welcomes this initiative.

Trading in intellectual property - predicated upon its creation - is founded on there being adequate legislation in place. But we are concerned that Hong Kong's copyright laws are falling behind other territories, which could prove an obstacle to it becoming an intellectual property trading hub.

The current Copyright Ordinance does not contain a general communication right - that is, the exclusive right to communicate a work to the public through various means - so that existing criminal provisions tackle only the unauthorised "distribution" of infringing copies.

Yet, as technology evolves, "distribution" may no longer be appropriate to cover the new means of communication, even when these may result in widespread circulation of infringing copies and should constitute an offence.

To keep pace with technological developments, a general communication right, which already exists in countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, should be introduced here, too.

Hong Kong is at a disadvantage when it comes to competing with, say, Singapore, which has also made clear its intentions to be a regional intellectual property trading hub.

Our city lags behind Asian jurisdictions, such as South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore, in the lack of clear obligations on online facilitators, such as internet service providers, which are best placed to stop their services being abused for illegal activity. Also, the ordinance gives no clear internet service provider liabilities or safe-harbour provisions, to encourage internet service providers to help combat infringement.

The recent international successes of K-pop are partly the result of such far-sighted legislation, which has encouraged investments in the creative industries. Without appropriate laws, intellectual property will be devalued, for instance because of access to infringing content made freely available online from extra-territorial sites.

Hong Kong's copyright protection term is now 50 years, which also lags behind its regional competitors, such as Singapore and South Korea, which are in line with the growing international norm of 70 years.

We urge the government to take assertive steps to bring the copyright amendment bill into force quickly and, thereafter, begin the next stage of reform to enhance the copyright foundation that will allow Hong Kong to truly develop into an intellectual property trading hub.

Candy Lam, regional counsel, IFPI Asian Regional Office