SCMP Thursday, April 26, 2001

Introduction of copyright bill delayed 'for changes'


Plans to suspend part of a law against unauthorised photocopying of newspapers suffered a further setback yesterday after the administration failed to finalise the bill for urgent gazetting.
In a statement issued on the eve of today's scheduled introduction of the Copyright (Suspension of Amendments) Bill 2001, a government spokesman said it would postpone the planned introduction of the bill until next Wednesday. This was to allow "technical changes" to be made so the public could understand more clearly the scope and content of the suspension to be applied to the recently amended Copyright Ordinance.
Despite officials' earlier firm stand against setting a timeframe for the suspension, the latest draft of the bill includes a provision on lifting the suspension - that suspension on the proposed criminal provisions shall cease to have effect on July 31, 2002. The move came after the Legco Secretariat's assistant legal adviser, Alice Ho, told Secretary for Commerce and Industry Chau Tak-hay in a four-page letter that the draft bill had no mechanism for cessation of the suspension. The bill may trigger the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance, creating the possibility that relevant sections of the bill "may not be revived", Ms Ho said.
She also argues that the proposal to exclude various copyright works from the suspension would result in "differential treatment in legislation".
To tie in with the administration's plan to introduce the bill - which aims at suspending some criminal provisions in the Intellectual Property (Miscellaneous Amendment) Ordinance - for first reading at today's Legco sitting, the bill was scheduled to be published in a special gazette yesterday. It is not known when the bill will now go through its second and third readings.
Officials will consult members' views on the new version at the first meeting of a newly formed Legco subcommittee this morning.
The administration originally proposed the bill go through three readings at today's Legco sitting. But when lawmakers found last week that the bill was not as simple as Mr Chau had claimed, his deputy, Kenneth Mak Ching-yu, agreed to drop the plan. The bill will suspend the criminalisation of unauthorised copying of elements of the print and broadcast media and Internet laid out in the Intellectual Property (Miscellaneous Amendment) Bill, enacted on April 1.
The suspension will not apply to computer programmes, except in a printed form, sound recordings and films that contain a substantial part of musical work and related literary work; and films and television drama that have been published or are intended for publication in Hong Kong and elsewhere.