The copyright bill at the centre of a months-long filibuster marked by disagreements between internet-freedom activists and media businesses has been effectively shelved, with the commerce minister agreeing to put an
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung said the administration would not relaunch consultations over the copyright law during the rest of its term. Dismissing claims that he should bear political responsibility for the legislative failure, So put the blame on the filibuster launched by pan-democrats.
READ MORE: Five reasons the Hong Kong copyright bill failed
The government rearranged the order of its legislative business, placing the copyright bill at the end of its agenda of items. So said it was nearly impossible for the Legislative Council to return to the bill given the limited time before September’s election.
But Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said that technically meant the bill was “still on the agenda”.
The victory for pan-democrats and internet users who were distrustful of the bill’s objective and implications concluded a heated political battle. Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014 was the result of more than a decade of controversy stemming from loopholes in the existing law that made it difficult to fight piracy on the internet.
Despite a victory for their filibuster attempt, the pan-democrats called the government’s decision to stall the bill a “lose-lose situation”, lambasting So for not incorporating their suggested amendments for them to pass the law.
Dennis Kwok, a Civic Party lawmaker, asked the government to reconsider a meeting to narrow the differences.
“We have proposed a moderate proposal which is a substantial compromise,” Kwok said. “We only ask that the alliance and government take the last step in order for us to break the impasse.”
Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, the People Power lawmaker who pre-empted So in tabling an adjournment motion, said it was So who killed the bill a day after the minister accused the 27 pan-democrats as “collectively the killers”.
So, however, said it was impracticable for pan-democrats to overlook the procedural complexity and come up with amendments at such a late stage of the legislative process.
Glacier Kwong Chung-yin, a spokeswoman for internet users’ group Keyboard Frontline, criticised So for neglecting counter-proposals and said whether to convene another meeting with copyright owners depended on what exactly would be discussed.
READ MORE: Kill bill: Hong Kong government minister hits out at pan-democrats over copyright bill filibuster
The minister on Friday cited popular Hong Kong martial arts novel The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber in remarks criticising the pan-democrats. He asked the public to “remember this bunch of people one by one”. They are, he added, “the ringleaders” for obstructing Hong Kong’s economic development.
Rejecting that he had any responsibility to bear for the failed legislative initiative, he said: “The government has already put forward the most mature and balanced bill after consultations and studies based on the public interest.”
While pro-establishment lawmakers complained behind the scenes that So was an incapable mediator – with none of them standing beside So during his media briefing that took place moments after Friday’s session ended – the commerce minister insisted those lawmakers were supportive of the bill and criticised the media for “splitting up” the two sides.
So had also repeatedly denied having allied with copyright owners in rejecting ideas from internet users’ groups.
READ MORE: Hong Kong copyright bill explained: Why are people so concerned about this?
Peter Lam Yuk-wah, a spokesman for Copyright Alliance, said it remained cautiously optimistic about passing the law despite So’s announcement. He added that the failure to update the law might lure some copyright owners to sue internet users over breaches.
John Medeiros, chief policy officer of pay-TV association CASBAA, said everybody lost in the copyright bill saga.
“The creative industries, artists, authors, directors, actors all lose the ability to obtain fair remuneration for their investment or their work,” Medeiros said. “The ISPs lose the opportunity to avail themselves of a ‘safe haven’ and are now exposed to potential high liability,” Medeiros said.
“Netizens lose the right to have precious political freedoms in favour of parody, satire, and commentary enshrined in law,” he added. “But the biggest loser is Hong Kong’s own economic prospects, as the outcome virtually guarantees the continued decline of Cantonese-language creative industries that should have been the focus of discussion, and instead were sidelined.”
Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce CEO Shirley Yuen lamented the bill’s status. “Our copyright standards lag behind many other developed economies,” she said. “Continuous filibustering is ... holding back a long list of infrastructure, welfare and economic projects that our society badly needs.”