Urgent Copyright Reform Needed in Hong Kong

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Hong Kong Falling Behind
Joe Welch, Senior Vice-President of Government Relations for 21st Century Fox, noted that “Hong Kong has fallen behind its regional and international peers” when it comes to safeguarding intellectual property rights and attracting investment and creating new opportunities for its creative industries.

Urgent Action Needed to Stop Theft
Checkley Sin, Chairman of the National Arts Entertainment and Culture Group Ltd, explained the harm already caused by ongoing copyright infringement to the creative industry in Hong Kong. Sin, a local film producer and director of “Ip Man” fame, urged the Hong Kong Government, which recognizes the importance of fostering the creative and innovation industries, “to take urgent measures to address the widespread problem” of Internet piracy and “to protect artists and creators from unauthorized theft and distribution of their works.”

Urgent action is required to reintroduce the Copyright (Amendment) Bill, which was first discussed in 2005 but never been passed, resulting in Hong Kong’s copyright laws being severely outdated in the new digital world. Panelists at the Forum described how this has contributed to the demise of Hong Kong’s creative industry. Illustrative of this point is the decline in Hong Kong film production over the last 20 years (from approximately 300 films being produced in the early 1990s to only 48 films in 2013) and the relative prosperity of mainland China, India, and Korea film markets.

According to Paul Berriman, Chief Technology Officer at PCCW and HKT, “Hong Kong needs a legal framework for the authorities to police the digital borders as well as the physical borders.” 

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) Onboard
Large-scale commercial piracy contributes to the congestion and degradation of Internet services for users. ISPs (Internet Service Providers) also face legal and business uncertainty, with potential liability arising from the use of their platforms for the distribution of illegitimate online content. According to Chairman Lento Yip of the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association, “ISPs will have to afford vast resources to operate the notice mechanisms that benefit both the copyright owners and legitimate content consumers in exchange for provisions to limit ISP liability. This reflects ISPs continued efforts to make HK the best connected city.” He is “supportive of the [Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2011] in its current form.”

Finding the Right Balance
The issue of copyright reform in Hong Kong has touched upon a number of sensitivities, among which includes the concern voiced by Craig Choy, legal adviser to the Copyrights and Derivative Rights Alliance, over perceived political censorship arising from the treatment of “parody.” Choy commented that an exemption for parody should be allowed and that parody “can be beneficial to the original rights owners as outlined in a report recently released by the Intellectual Properties Office in the UK.”

Stacy Baird conveyed his past experiences in working with US copyright legislation and noted that a modernization of Hong Kong’s copyright laws would not curtail important freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kongers over the Internet. He observed that there are “protections for free speech, including parody, under the existing Hong Kong law – indeed, there has never been a copyright prosecution for a parody here. Were there to be, foreign judicial decisions would place parody squarely into ‘fair dealings.’”

Taking a leaf from US and UK experiences on copyright reform, Warner Bros Senior Vice-President Dean Marks commented that “effective measures outside of Asia have been adopted to address the problem of Internet piracy without impinging on the interests of the general public and without contravening international trade obligations” and that “to take on Internet piracy, statutory provisions establishing a legal framework is needed, along with close cooperation and voluntary efforts by both rightholders and Internet intermediaries.”

All Key Stakeholders in Agreement
A clear consensus was reached among all stakeholders that immediate copyright reform is needed in Hong Kong. Richard Vuylsteke, President of the American Chamber of Commerce, closed the session with a plea urging that “the Hong Kong Government regain its position of leadership and immediately adopt a more robust intellectual property rights regime by reintroducing and passing the Copyright (Amendment) Bill.”

A copy of the President’s remarks can be downloaded here

Contact:
Ming-Lai Cheung (Ms.)
Director, Government Relations & Public Affairs
The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2530 6927
Email: [email protected]

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With roughly 1,700 members, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong (AmCham) is one of the largest American Chambers outside the United States, the largest international chamber in Hong Kong, and one of the most dynamic and influential international business organizations in the Asia-Pacific region. AmCham’s mission is to foster commerce among the United States, Hong Kong, and Mainland China; and to enhance Hong Kong's stature as an international business center.