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Urgent Copyright Reform Needed

Issued: March 31 2014

Hong Kong’s copyright protection is in serious need of reform, copyright experts and stakeholders say.

“Hong Kong has fallen behind its regional and international peers” when it comes to safeguarding IP and attracting investment for its creative industries, said Joe Welch, the Hong Kong-based senior vice-president of government relations at 21st Century Fox, speaking at a February forum hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

Checkley Sin, chairman of the Hong Kong-based National Arts Entertainment and Culture Group, urged the government “to take urgent measures to address the widespread problem” of internet piracy.

Action is also needed to reintroduce the Copyright (Amendment) Bill, which was first discussed in 2005 but has never been passed, resulting in Hong Kong’s copyright laws being severely outdated in the new digital world, panelists said, describing how government’s failure to update its copyright laws has contributed to the demise of the creative industry. Hong Kong film production has declined over the last 20 years from approximately 300 films in the early 1990s to a mere 48 in 2013.

“Hong Kong needs a legal framework for the authorities to police the digital borders as well as the physical borders,” said Paul Berriman, group chief technology officer at Hong Kongbased telecommunication companies PCCW and HKT.

Large-scale commercial piracy contributes to the degradation of internet services for users. Internet service providers face legal and business uncertainty, with potential liability arising from the use of their platforms for the distribution of illegitimate online content.

Lento Yip, chairman of the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association, said that “ISPs will have to afford vast resources to operate the notice mechanisms that benefit both copyright owners and legitimate content consumers in exchange for provisions to limit ISP liability.”

Craig Choy, a legal adviser at the Copyrights and Derivative Rights Alliance, said that an exemption for parody should be allowed, and that parody “can be beneficial to the original rights owners as outlined in a report in the [United Kingdom].”

Stacy Baird, executive director of the IP programme at the US-China Clean Energy Forum, noted that modernization of Hong Kong’s copyright laws would not curtail important freedoms. 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.’”


While digital infringement is surging, do pirated discs still have an impact on the entertainment industry? Dean Marks, the Los Angeles-based senior vice president of IP at Warner Bros. Entertainment, says yes.

“Fake DVDs are still hurting Hollywood,” Marks tells Asia IP. “Movies such as Batman are sold in box sets with phenomenal-looking packages.”

In addition to improved laws and enforcement, new business models to adapt to the needs of the new world are needed, says Marks.

“Hollywood initially feared that consumers’ ability to stream purchased content on devices could damage its bottom line, but it was finally convinced that consumer behaviour has changed, and Hollywood needs to follow,” Marks says. “For example, after the US airing of The Vampire Diaries, people quickly shared unauthorized copies, which affected the ratings of the licensee in the UK. The US licensor then suggested putting all content on iTunes. The UK licensee accepted the idea despite its initial [reluctance], the show received received higher ratings and more buzz.”


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