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Hong Kong copyright bill

Hong Kong government must break the impasse over copyright law

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 January, 2016, 3:59pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 January, 2016, 3:59pm

The passage of the second reading of the copyright bill last Thursday could mean a bigger battle ahead, with greater paralysis of the legislature. That the Legislative Council meeting was forced to adjourn due to the lack of a quorum the following day shows how the discussion of the law is caught in yet another impasse (“Copyright bill debate abandoned as not enough members turn up to Legco”, January 22). While pan-democrats have every legitimate reason to campaign for wider and clearer exemptions, their old trick of stalling for time is despicable, as commerce minister Greg So Kam-leung rightly said.

Indisputably, the new copyright bill is an improvement on the much-criticised proposal put forth in 2012, which was much tilted towards protecting the interests of copyright owners. The incorporation of six exemptions in the present bill, however, does little to allay concerns over potential criminal and civil liabilities.

Lawmakers are calling for more sweeping exemptions and have advanced such concepts as “fair use” and “contract override”. Bar Association chairwoman Winnie Tam Wan-chi has a point when she says cherry-picking different elements of copyright laws from different jurisdictions is not practical.

A fair deal regime, which is what the government proposes, grants exemptions to the use of copyright materials in accordance with the prescribed purposes in the law and principles of fairness. Other than the use of copyrighted works for purposes such as parody, satire, pastiche, caricature and education, what is deemed a “fair dealing” can be elusive until a widely accepted statutory definition is pinned down. The contract override principle means inclusion of provisions restricting contractual terms from overriding or limiting exceptions for parody, caricature and pastiche. Such a move, however, may bring about adverse economic impact on legitimate business dealings.

If the unrelenting backlash is any guide, the assurance from the government that the legislation targets large-scale copyright infringement, not individual users, does little to placate the public. Filibustering has detracted from the goal of putting our city on a par with international standards, notwithstanding the consensus that due copyright protection is the cornerstone of innovation and creativity for any economy.

The ever-widening rift between parties only adds to political acrimony. With the policy address and budget in the queue for scrutiny, we cannot afford to be bogged down with any delaying tactics. The possibility for the pan-democrats to back down is slim and it is not helped when the government remains headstrong. It is time for the government to change tack.

Borromeo Li Ka-kit, Happy Valley