Media Digest: Source of Hong Kong Copyright Amendmenet Bill Dispute

Media Digest published an article Source of Hong Kong Copyright Amendment Bill Dispute on 5 February composed by Benjamin Zhou of HKTR. To find out the issue at core of the contentious copyright amendment bill, the author reviewed the documents maintained by the Legislative Council of Hong Kong in the past 10 years.

In fact, the copyright amendment bill is supposed to harmonise the benefits of different parties in the copyright regime;  copyright owners expect their benefits to be protected in the prosperous and fast-changing digital economy,  whereas the internet users demand free speech not to be restricted in the name of copyright protection but they support prevention of online piracy. However, the government, which should strike a balance in the middle ground between the economic benefit and human right protection, initially leaned to the former as the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau was chosen to be in charge of the public consultation and the drafting of the bill. The ignorance of creative freedom in the 2011 bill, no matter intentionally or not, gave rise to resistance from civil society which resulted in an official withdrawal. In the second round of consultation in 2013, the Hong Kong government introduced “fair dealing” exceptions in accordance with the city’s common law legacy, but its publicity was overwhelmed by a campaign of netizen groups who asked for a larger scope of exception.

As for the 2014 bill, the administration and netizen groups adopted divergent interpretations, which Professor Peter Yu regards as the discrepancy between “broad reading” and “narrow reading”, and it is unclear which reading is right or wrong before a judge makes a ruling. Yu attributes the current legislative deadlock to the mistrust towards the government. “No matter how much effort the government makes to draft the bill, there is always a grey zone,” says Yu. “The attitude towards the bill by legislators and the general public depends on whether they believe the government will fairly implement the law.”

On the contrary, without such a fundamental mistrust between the administration and its’ citizens, the UK’s new copyright rules were passed in 2014 even with less exceptions than in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, the passage of the Hong Kong copyright amendment bill has been shelved after a 10-year debate. The issue of benefit distribution in the copyright regime has grown into a political one purely for the mistrust demonstrated by the public, which lies at the core of all issues in Hong Kong.

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