Date
28 July 2017
More than 230,000 internet users have signed an online petition to press the government to withdraw controversial amendments to the copyright law. Photos: HKEJ, The Copyright and Derivative Works Alliance
More than 230,000 internet users have signed an online petition to press the government to withdraw controversial amendments to the copyright law. Photos: HKEJ, The Copyright and Derivative Works Alliance

Did CY just invite a filibuster of draft copyright amendments?

Legislators are set to resume debate on controversial changes to the copyright law and already, the government is saying the amendments will pass no matter what.

It’s adamant Wednesday’s deliberations will move the proposal, which has been in the works for 10 years, a step forward.

On Sunday, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying wooed critics, at the same time warning them that any filibuster will not derail it.

Meanwhile, the government kicked off a public relations campaign during the weekend to try to get Hong Kong people on board.

Leung made sure they understand that his Innovation and Technology Bureau was passed by Legco this year, despite the best efforts of pan-democrats to filibuster it into oblivion after successfully holding it off for three years.

In this one, Leung has an ally — sort of – in the Democratic Party 

Chairperson Emily Lau said her party will not join any filibuster but warned she and her colleagues will vigorously oppose the proposal as it stands.

There’s cause for concern here because in its present form, the proposal has huge implications for free speech, especially as it applies to the internet.

Already, its being called “Article 23 of the internet”, in reference to a mothballed national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law.

Press freedom advocates fear that the amended ordinance will curtail the free flow of information and related content on the internet under the pretext of copyright protection.

In addition, they are worried that instead of encouraging creativity and innovation online, the new law will suppress them.

The government insists the proposal has ample protections to address precisely those concerns in the form of exemptions, meaning activities or material not covered by it.

The problem is the proposal does not spell out specifically what these exemptions are and how the government plans to implement them.

For instance, “fair use”, an internationally accepted exemption that allows people to use or adapt online content, is not clearly defined in the proposal. 

Lawmakers and concern groups are rightly frustrated by the lack of details on which to base their demands for wider exemptions. 

It looks like this one has been put together in a hurry.

You would think the government would have finessed the document in those 10 years.

Now it’s saying this is a matter of great importance and urgency.

Of course. The rest of the advanced world is pressing Hong Kong to pass a copyright protection law.

The government is embarrassed that such a technologically enabled society as Hong Kong is seen as a laggard.

But instead of trying to win public support for the proposal by focusing its efforts on a far-reaching information campaign, it is embarking on a public relations exercise and resorting to politics as usual.

If it had done its job in getting the population on board, the government would not need to even mention filibuster, let alone fear it.

If the public had been clear about the long and short of the draft legislation, it would have nothing to fear about free speech being sacrificed.

Instead, more than 230,000 internet users have signed an online petition to press the government to withdraw the proposal.

Yet, strangely enough, Commerce and Economic Secretary Greg So thinks this is a compliance issue, not a political issue.

Obviously, he is not expecting opposition lawmakers to filibuster the proposal and the public to cheer them from the sidelines.   

But his boss may have set the stage for precisely that scenario by declaring the copyright amendment law a foregone conclusion. 

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SC/AC/RA

EJ Insight writer

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