HONG KONG: In Hong Kong, a new copyright bill that raised fears of the government limiting the freedom of speech on the internet will be discussed by lawmakers on Wednesday (Dec 16).
Locals are already calling the bill, “Article 23 of the Internet”, alluding to the controversial national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law, which has been shelved.
The legislation was meant to be an update on the Copyright Ordinance to combat large-scale online piracy and keep Hong Kong in line with international standards.
Authorities have defended the legislation as striking the right balance between freedom of expression and the rights of copyright holders. But critics fear the law will limit freedom of speech and stifle creativity online.
They have argued that the government's proposed exemptions - parody, satire, caricature, pastiche and the reporting or commenting on current affairs – is not clearly defined.
"I couldn't say that the existing law is worse than the existing situation, but unfortunately, the government hasn't been able to convince our internet user public that they could trust them or this is enough, so they wanted something more, in order to get peace of mind,” said Charles Mok, an IT advocate who serves on the Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo)
Netizens are concerned, for instance, about whether modifying a Hollywood blockbuster movie poster, or uploading a cover version of a song onto the internet may have copyright holders coming after them.
"To an extent, the irony is that actually, today, with existing law before the amendment, one might argue that this sort of political expression or satire or even non-political humour or parody type of work, would already be infringing copyright,” Mr Mok said.
Mr Mok said he will vote against the bill, if amendments, including exemption for fair use and user-generated content, were rejected.
'A BIT OVERSTATED'
Elsewhere, the US fair use doctrine is very broad, while 'user-generated content' adopted in Canada provides protection if content is not for profit and is not distributed commercially.
However, intellectual property lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Dr Danny Friedmann, said he believes that derivative works are safe from prosecution, even if the current bill was passed.
"If you transform the work enough, then there's no problem, then, you create a new work. So I don't see the big problem of derivative works. I think it is a little bit overstated” he said.
“In Hong Kong, the Court of Final Appeal has a reputation for interpreting fundamental rights such as the freedom of expression generously."
The government has enough numbers in LegCo to get the legislation through, and it has also gone one step further to reassure the public that it hopes to submit another revised bill by 2020 if this bill is passed.
A lengthy debate is expected though with opposition lawmakers planning to filibuster.
Security was expected to be high at the LegCo Building Wednesday, after a small explosion and fire in a rubbish bin outside the building last week. A meeting on the legislation then was adjourned due to a lack of quorum.
Hundreds of officers were to be deployed or on standby while tens of thousands of protesters opposing the bill were expected to turn-up.