Is Hong Kong’s new copyright law the Article 23 of the internet? In short, the danger is less from this new bill, but more from the potential for future laws to be bundled together in order to quell political opposition.
This is a classic tactic of authoritarian regimes. Laws will be introduced that seem innocuous enough, and appear to have the public good at heart, but when bundled together with other laws, they become efficient tools of political repression.
With the CCP now actively scooping up all media companies in the territory, the control of many forms of copyright will be thoroughly under their command. As independent content creators, we will all be at the mercy of these powerful companies. In the politically charged climate in which we live, who will have the last word on whether copyrighted material has been infringed or not? Will the copyright owners be as tolerant as they were with CY Leung’s bumbling of copyright in his Beyond rendition or his Hello Kitty cakes photo? And if not, what defence can an individual mount against a determined assault from a huge company that is being urged to act by powerful and sinister forces.
So, in reality, an outspoken political activist could inadvertently infringe upon a copyright and this would act as an open door to tie them up in endless legal troubles. This is classic Lawfare, so favoured by CCP. Or using the law as a weapon to neutralise dissent from citizens.
Even worse, copyright infringement could lead to a police raid on the activist’s home and confiscation of the activist’s computers and other media. Other erroneous charges could then be applied, like accessing a computer with criminal or dishonest intent. Which of course was created to prevent hacking and cybercrime, not quell protests and silence activists. It doesn’t matter if the charges don’t eventually stick. This is not the outcome the government cares about. Instead, the activist would be tied up in rolling legal troubles for years; erstwhile their computers are confiscated and mined for information by the police. Oh and the copyright? Well, doesn’t matter! what the government and police needed was a legal reason to act, regardless of how tenuous the infringement was.
Of course, you could say this is all very conspiratorial, and this law is just meant to bring HK’s copyright laws up-to-date. But, do you trust the government not to abuse its power?
This is the same government that had authorised the police to confiscate the Goddess of Democracy statue before June 4th because they didn’t have a performance licence. The government that allegedly used bus companies to get injunctions to clear the Occupy protests because they were too scared to take the responsibility of using the criminal justice system.
CY Leung and his cronies have proven time and time again that law is a flexible tool of control for them to use and for you to obey without question. There are many who fear that this new law, once passed, will be another string to their bow, and they will not hesitate to use it to go after those they see as political enemies.
Richard is a freelance writer and long term resident of Hong Kong. He has a Master's Degree in Chinese Studies from CUHK and describes himself as a noisy muser on all things China. He has travelled extensively in Western China and once owned a trekking lodge high on the Tibetan border. He has a raw style of Opinion Journalism, with special interests in the South China Seas and deciphering Hong Kong's Localist/Independence groups.