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Saturday, December 19, 2015, 14:53

Netizens’ adviser open to passing copyright bill now with review later

By Kahon Chan in Hong Kong

An international copyright expert, who has advised netizen groups, “doesn’t disagree” with the government that lawmakers should pass the copyright bill first and review it later — provided Internet users’ concerns are addressed.

Peter K. Yu, co-director at US-based Texas A&M University’s Center for Law and Intellectual Property, returned to Hong Kong on Friday for a seminar on the hotly debated Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014. The second reading at the Legislative Council will resume on Jan 6.

Yu has been engaged since 2012 by Internet user groups that disputed the belated update of legal safeguards of intellectual properties for the digital age. In late 2013, he submitted a 49-page proposal on behalf of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong.

The draft bill dropped Yu’s recommendation to exempt all user-generated content (UGC) that is “predominantly non-commercial”, citing controversy on the concept of UGC.

Almost two years later, Yu told China Daily: “I don’t disagree with the government that we should pass first and review later”, in light of Hong Kong’s desperate need to update the copyright law. But he said the review must address users’ concerns.

Protesters outside LegCo voiced fears of oppression in the guise of copyright lawsuits. Yu said he had never taken the view that the government intended to use the bill as a weapon to suppress critics.

He said the public was prone to view the bill “with a colored lens” after last year’s occupation protests.

But he thinks Hong Kong’s bill is too broadly drafted for the purpose of combating large-scale online piracy. Broad terms in the law in other places have attracted unforeseen abuses.

A classic example is “copyright trolling”, in which copyright holders make money from lawsuits against unauthorized uses. Las Vegas-based Righthaven, after acquiring an archive of a local newspaper’s stories, found initial success in 2010 by suing bloggers who reproduced the stories without permission.

Yu underscored that stakeholders today are unable to foresee all unintended side effects in the future. “The government and copyright industries focus on what they plan to do today. LegCo should focus on what the law allows them to do in the future,” Yu advised.

The opposition camp vowed to vote down the bill if their three amendments are all denied.

But Hong Kong Bar Association Chairwoman Winnie Tam Wan-chi has cautioned that the opposition demands would throw the city’s copyright regime into chaos as their proposals are borrowed from three distinct jurisdictions.

Yu outlined other options for Hong Kong to consider. Without depriving the rights of intellectual property ownership, the bill could impose a monetary threshold for civil actions against non-commercial copyright infringement or prescribe remedies for victims of legal abuses aimed at stifling competition.

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