The government has postponed the Legislative Council debate on the controversial copyright amendment bill - but has stopped short of demands for the change in the law to be shelved completely which are now coming from pro-government lawmakers and the pan-democrats.
The three- to four-week delay, announced by Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Greg So Kam-leung yesterday, casts doubt on whether the bill, which makes all copyright infringement a criminal offence, will be approved by the end of the Legco session in mid-July.
It followed a request from the Legco House Committee to postpone the second and third readings of the bill, originally due at a full council meeting on Wednesday, after lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip of the pro-democracy group People Power filed more than 1,300 amendments.
Insisting the bill would not hinder freedom of speech, So said: 'I hope that during this [postponement], the bureau and the lawmakers can communicate more, to find ways to improve our protection of copyright.'
Lawmaker Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Beijing-loyalist Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, met So yesterday, a day after he said the bill should be redrawn to address public concerns. Campaigners have dubbed the bill the 'Article 23 of the internet', after the controversial national security legislation which was shelved in 2003 after huge protests.
It is feared a catch-all approach to copyright infringement could see, for example, people who modify copyrighted material for political parody end up in court.
Tam said the delay had already been announced when he met So, but added that he still urged the minister to listen to public opinion.
But political commentators say Tam's interest in delaying the bill with its huge number of amendments was more about making room for chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying's government restructuring plan to be approved.
Tam acknowledged the restructuring plan, for which Legco must approve funding, was on his mind. 'Our aim is simple - to do what is needed to be done,' he said. 'The restructuring is needed; it will make the administration run smoother in the future.'
Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the pan-democrat Labour Party, said: 'Postponing it for a few weeks is not genuine consultation. The administration should listen to the public.'
Miriam Lau Kin-yee, chairwoman of the Liberal Party, urged the government to exempt works of satire from the bill, unless it causes commercial loss. Currently, copyright infringements for profit or which lead to significant damage to the copyright holder are criminal offences.