US still waiting for Hong Kong to catch up on copyright law as 10-year stalemate continues
US Deputy Consul General in Hong Kong says intellectual property law must be updated for city to thrive
The controversial copyright bill will be shelved if it is not passed by next Friday, commerce minister Greg So Kam-leung warned yesterday in an ultimatum for pan-democrat lawmakers to stop their filibustering.
If the bill – which sceptical internet users and pan-democrats see as a threat to freedom of expression – is shelved, it will be the second time in four years that the government has failed to get a copyright bill through the Legislative Council after a decade of discussion on the issue. Debate on the bill has been adjourned five times since December.
So said he was not bowing to pressure from pan-democrats and internet users. He said that there was still time for all lawmakers to scrutinise the bill and approve it in the Legco meeting scheduled to start on March 2.
“If it cannot be approved next week, that’s the end of it,” he said.
“We are not kneeling down, we are just taking the big picture into account, as there are more than 20 bills in the backlog and we have spent, or wasted, much time on the bill, so enough is enough.”
The government sees the bill as necessary to align Hong Kong with global standards of intellectual property protection. But critics have dubbed it “Internet Article 23”, a reference to the Basic Law provision on national security legislation.
So’s announcement came a day after pan-democrat lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan told him in person that internet users have agreed to a concession on the “fair use” exemption in response to business worries expressed by copyright owners, Ho said.
Unfazed by the warning, the pan-democrats joined internet user groups in describing So’s decision as “pitiful”, and radical lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung pledged to continue the filibustering.
Copyright Alliance spokesman Peter Lam Yuk-wah, who represents copyright owners, said while they were “stunned” by the government’s decision, they agreed that the pan-democrats should let the bill go through.
Keyboard Alliance, a concern group formed by internet users, expressed disappointment that So had not proposed a better solution to protect the public.
Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung described the reversal as “unusual”, and questioned if the government was pressured by Beijing to “restore social harmony”.
So insisted that it was the pan-democrats who should consider the consequences for economic development as the city’s creative industry and internet users’ interests would be jeopardised without updated legislation. Without an updated law, foreign investors could be discouraged from doing business in Hong Kong, he added.
Tom Cooney, US Deputy Consul General in Hong Kong, reiterated the importance of Hong Kong beefing up protection of intellectual property, as its current law dates back to the 1990s.
“It is important for Hong Kong’s stability and to keep innovating in future,” he said.
“It would help not only the US business but also Hong Kong’s creative industry. Hong Kong is an outstanding place to do business for America ... a world-class business infrastructure deserves an updated world-class intellectual protection on copyrights.”
The American Chamber of Commerce said it was disappointed that the government was “forced to take this position”, and “the blame lies squarely with those legislators who have participated in filibustering tactics and have perpetuated misinformation about the bill”.
Additional reporting by Owen Fung
>Harry’s view A14
>another one bites the dust C3