Legco needs to give us straight answers about Copyright Bill 2014 before we can accept it

Justin Wong
Justin Wong |

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A protester stands behind a cardboard cutout depicting a webpage and bars of a cage while she attends a rally organized by rights group Keyboard Frontline, against the introduction by the government the Copyright Amendment Bill.

On any local YouTuber’s channel, you get similar content: video game walkthroughs with funny commentary, a cover of the latest Cantopop, or (my favourite) social commentary spoken to the camera, cut with funny dialogue and movie scenes.

Apart from online videos, meme-generating is another Hong Kong speciality. Back at the 2012 Chief Executive Election, when it was discovered that both Henry Tang and CY Leung had illegal structures at their residence, a meme storm broke out online. Tonnes of them were created by editing posters and screencaps of movies or dramas. They mocked Tang for shedding responsibility to his wife, and Leung for lying that he does not have illegal structures in his house. Netizens used the same techniques on several other occasions, such as the mass walkout of the pro-establish lawmakers during the voting of the political reform in June.

But this internet sensation could go extinct, thanks to the Copyright Bill 2014, proposed by the government last year. Officials claim it will protect intellectual property from piracy by removing offending items from the internet and prosecuting pirates.

The government claims that materials edited for satire, parody or reporting on a current event does not count as a copyright infringement, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

First, what is considered copyright infringement? Even though the policy suggested an exception on certain purposes, the line is blurry because it does not clarify which situation fits in the exceptions. For example, when I share a link about the highlights of a football match with my friends on Facebook, does it satisfy the exception purpose of “commenting on current events”? Or when I decided to edit the “One Does Not Simply” meme into something more comical, will it be counted as “parody”?

More importantly, will the new policy be a law-enforcing tool for the government to keep opposing opinions in check? The latest Google report revealed the police made at least 5 requests on removing 24 items, including a YouTube video, claiming that it “disseminates a false message that Hong Kong police assaulted a person under arrest in a police vehicle”.

Many memes are created to display their displeasure to a government policy or to a top official. If law enforcement use the policy as a reason to remove such memes, it will violate Hong Kong’s freedom of speech. We need a balance between public and private rights in this policy.