Pan-democratic parties will vote against the controversial Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014, if their suggested changes to fix loopholes are rejected during a second reading at Legislative Council next week. However, the government may have already secured the votes it needs to pass the bill.
The bill has been dubbed “Internet Article 23” – Article 23 being Hong Kong’s ill-fated national security law. The bill is intended to extend the protection of copyright owners to the internet. However, netizens, internet freedom advocacy groups and lawmakers have expressed concerns that it could limit the creation and distribution of all derivative works, including popular parody pictures online, as it does not include an open-ended exemption for “user generated content,” a “contract override” nor a “fair use” term.
Under the new bill to be discussed, netizens could be prosecuted for the offence of obtaining “access to a computer with intent to commit an offence or with a dishonest intent.” They may face legal action from copyright owners if they use copyrighted material for remixes.
Lawmakers from the Labour Party, Civic Party and People Power have proposed amendments to include terms to protect netizens from uncertain risk of prosecution from derivative works such as rewritten song lyrics or screen captures from television shows and movies.
Symbolic vote down
The Democratic Party, along with the parties that proposed the amendments, have decided that if the amendments are not passed, they will vote down the bill.
Lo Kin-hei, vice-chairman of the Democratic Party, said that netizens and his party members were worried that parody pictures and screen captures may be considered illegal activity according to the new bill and, if the action is not exempted in the bill, the government may prosecute individuals who use such images.
Lo said that considering the government often uses its power without limit, the bill should be voted down, Apple Daily reported.
In a statement issued on Facebook, the Civic Party said if amendments proposed by its lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang were rejected, the party would vote down the bill during the third reading.
Lawmaker Raymond Wong Yuk-man is to start a filibuster to stall the bill by proposing over 903 amendments, but these are yet to be approved by LegCo president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing.
However, since the bill was proposed by the government, only votes from half of the lawmakers present at the meeting are required for it to be passed, which means the government may have already secured the votes required from the pro-Beijing camp, which has 43 out of 70 lawmakers.
Ultimately, it will all come down to which lawmakers will be absent from the key meeting.
Government rejection of protection
The bill was originally proposed by the government in 2011, but it was abandoned temporarily after strong opposition from netizens and filibustering in LegCo.
Following consultations in 2013, the bill features a “fair dealing” term, usually found in common law countries. It states that using copyrighted works for purposes such as parody, satire, pastiche, caricature, criticism, review, quotation, education, research and news reporting is not be an infringement of copyright.
However, netizens were still worried that this term may limit the kind of materials they can create and publish, and thus they urged for an open-ended exemption model to protect any non-commercial work for personal use.
The government rejected the proposal saying it was vague and may not match with international agreements. They said the change was too big and out of the scope of the current legislation.
In November last year, during the pro-democracy Occupy protests, some protesters gathered outside the LegCo in response to a false rumour that the bill would be passed on that day. Some smashed a door at LegCo, three were jailed for three and a half months and one received a community service sentence.