Hong Kong authorities should provide clear definitions and examples of what material is exempted under copyright law amendments newly passed by the Legislative Council, otherwise the changes could lead to self-censorship by the public, lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen has said.

Tik Chi-yuen
Lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The Copyright (Amendment) Bill had twice failed to pass the legislature, in 2011 and 2014, and was dubbed “internet Article 23” by opponents, referring to an also-shelved security law. On Wednesday the Legislative Council approved the bill’s final reading, after it was again tabled by the government in June.

The amended law would extend copyright protection to work distributed via any electronic means, with exemptions for the purposes of “parody, satire, caricature or pastiche” as well as “criticism, review, quotation, and reporting and commenting on current events.”

Tik, the legislature’s only self-proclaimed non-pro-establishment lawmaker, told Wednesday’s meeting he was worried that “creators, out of fear of breaking the law, will censor themselves” because the government did not give concrete examples of what type of material would be exempted.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Algernon Yau said the proposed amendments “not only will not narrow down the freedom of speech, expression and creative work, but added more legal exemptions on the use of copyright work under the current Copyright Ordinance.”

A self-organised rally outside LegCo against the copyright bill.
A self-organised rally outside LegCo against the copyright bill in 2014. File photo: Soc Rec.

The government said in a report to the Legislative Council that it thinks there is no need to define the exemptions, “thereby allowing appropriate flexibility for the court to decide in case of litigation and providing more leeway for copyright users.”

However, Tik told HKFP on Thursday that he thinks it is better for the government to set out guidelines and examples instead of waiting for courts to clear up the confusion with judgements.

“It will take a very long time before there can be enough precedent cases to make matters clear enough… and with that many areas of exemption, how many cases do we need?’ Tik asked.

He added that the exemptions listed in the new copyright legislation should have been open-ended – “We should adopt a more lenient attitude, as copyright holders can already file civil claims. “

But Tik was in the minority in Wednesday’s debate.

Algernon Yau
Algernon Yau. File photo: Greater Bay Airlines.

Legislator Ma Fung-kwok said previous government proposals “had been stigmatised as ‘Internet Article 23’ by some extremists working together with opposition forces within and outside the Legislative Council.”

Ma said Hong Kong’s creative industries as a result had been “deeply affected” by online piracy.

Kenneth Fok, who represents the Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication sector, also said he had “waited for a long time” for the new amendments.

“Hong Kong’s copyright law and protection of intellectual property lag behind nearby regions for nearly ten years,” he said.

By the end of Wednesday’s meeting, Yau said the smooth deliberative process for the amendments “demonstrates that after the improvement of the electoral system, the administrative and legislative bodies can reasonably and efficiently discuss policies or bill amendment suggestions beneficial to Hong Kong’s societal and economic development.”

In March, 2021, Beijing passed legislation to ensure “patriots” govern Hong Kong. The move reduced democratic representation in the legislature, tightened control of elections and introduced a pro-Beijing vetting panel to select candidates. The Hong Kong government said the overhaul would ensure the city’s stability and prosperity. But the changes also prompted international condemnation, as it makes it near-impossible for pro-democracy candidates to stand.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.