No consensus after public consultation on parody law

More talks ahead after web users and copyright owners fail to agree on proposed amendments

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 5:25am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 5:25am

The government has failed to come up with a proposal on how to better protect parody makers, after a four-month public consultation found that opinions on amending the law are deeply divided.

None of the three options listed in the consultation document gained majority support from the more than 2,000 submissions received from web users and copyright owners.

Of the three options, one was to clarify criminal sanction provisions to specify that parody makers would not be prosecuted unless their work caused "more than trivial" economic damage to copyright owners. The second was to exempt parodies from existing criminal offences.

The third was to exempt parody makers from civil and criminal liabilities as long as they met "fair dealing" requirements - such as the work not being of a profit-making nature and its degree of similarity with the original - to be decided by a court.

The only common ground between web users and copyright owners was the opinion that only creators of non-commercial works should receive protection, a government source said.

By this principle, the League of Social Democrats should not be protected for printing and selling a T-shirt with a parodied version of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong's logo.

Views were diverse beyond that point. Keyboard Frontline, a group representing web users, proposed a fourth option based on Canadian law. It suggested that not just parody makers, but all creators of non-commercial user-generated content - such as remixed music or home movies with commercial background music - should be exempted from civil and criminal liabilities.

As there was no consensus, the government will hold further talks with stakeholders before announcing a preferred option. But the government source expressed reservations about the Canadian model. "If a web user sings a copyrighted song unrelated to current affairs, should we exempt him from copyright liabilities?" he asked.

IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok said the government's hesitation would further delay amendments to the copyright law, which has lagged behind international standards for years.

"People always have different views. It makes no sense to wait endlessly," he said.

Keyboard Frontline's Luk Kwun-yu, who supports the Canadian model, said there was little room for compromise. "I won't blame the government for the gap [between web users and copyright owners]," he said. "In the meantime, I'd prefer to keep the current legislation rather than make dubious changes."