Hong Kong must seize this chance to enact new copyright law
Critics worried about erosion of freedoms are missing the point: our city lags far behind international standards on intellectual property protection
In what appears to be a deliberate attempt to delay the vote on the controversial new copyright bill, some lawmakers stayed away from the Legislative Council meeting so that it did not have a quorum to continue. While the delay may help take the heat off for now, it also unnecessarily drags out the process. The government should make use of the time to better communicate with stakeholders and address their worries.
The move to bring the city’s copyright law in line with international norms began as early as 2006. A bill was introduced in the previous Legco term, but was shelved at the 11th hour amid worries that political parodies and other creative works based on copyright materials might be banned.
The government is right in saying that our copyright law is lagging behind international standards. It is adamant that the new bill only seeks to modernise the provisions. But some internet activists remain unconvinced, saying the new law can be used to crack down on freedom of expression.
While it is good that a package of exemptions has been added this time, officials have again done a bad job in explaining the changes to the people. This is reflected in the swift response to an online campaign against the law. Many followers may not be familiar with the provisions. They probably oppose the bill because the law has been dubbed the “Article 23 of the Internet”, a reference to the shelved national security law that critics feared would curb our freedoms.
Scepticism can be difficult to dispel, especially when the issues are complicated and sensitive. This is not helped when public trust in the government remains low. During the peak of the Occupy protests last year, some activists stormed Legco in the evening amid rumours that the copyright bill was due for a vote.
As an international city, we have the obligation to create a more favourable business environment. This includes the protection of copyright and intellectual property. Officials are under pressure from the business sector, including certain foreign investors, to do a better job in this regard.
We cannot safeguard freedom of expression at the expense of copyright protection. The bill before Legco has struck the right balance and is now ready for a vote. It should be noted that if the law is rejected, the proposed safeguards for freedoms will also lapse. This means some draconian provisions in the existing law will continue to apply. Opponents should therefore think twice.