Why Hong Kong Needs a Bill of Rights, Not Just a New Copyright Law: Opinion

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Discussion of a proposed new copyright bill in Hong Kong got under way again this week in the Legislative Council. It had been held up by days of delaying tactics, the Christmas-New Year holidays, and by procedural motions attempting to adjourn the debate until the HK government had rethought its approach to the thorny, but important issue.

Filibuster tactics and demonstrations, even a small explosion outside LegCo, dominated headlines, rather than the issues at hand: performance, piracy, plagiarism and the right to parody.

Part of the reason the issues got lost is a distrust of the government, which is perceived as being largely run for the benefit of local tycoons and the central government in Beijing.

Questions about freedom of expression and business online – “fair use” versus “fair dealing” — have been clumsily handled and poorly explained.

Equally badly, the proposed new copyright law will arrive on the statute books out of date and immediately need to be updated, government admits.

The news in the past week that five Hong Kong book sellers may have been kidnapped and taken across the border to China for questioning by security forces, is a terrifying development. And one that requires the Hong Kong government – constitutionally operating with a “high degree of autonomy” until 2047 – to take a stand.

It needs to come up with a Bill of Rights, like ones currently being drafted in several countries around the world. One that protects its citizens and companies, guarantees freedom of speech (online and off), and ensures that laws will be enforced by independent regulators, police, courts and arbitrators. Not just a copyright law that defines content ownership.

Bills of Rights were recently defined as “based upon broad public participation, which entrench human rights and safeguard space for innovation, while recognizing the legitimate needs of companies to make profits and of governments to fight crime,” by Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, writing in The Economist.

“This bill is vital to the survival of the cultural industries of Hong Kong; film, television and animation,” says Ma Fung-kwok, a pro-government legislator specializing in the creative sector, of the copyright bill.

Free operation of the media and the courts is just as important if tiny Hong Kong is to maintain its outsized role in Asian media, culture, finance, and dispute resolution.

Flagship Entertainment, the recently-launched Chinese movie movie production joint venture between Warner Bros and China Media Capital did not settle on the Special Administrative Area as its legal seat just for Hong Kong’s iconic scenery.

The best outcome might be for the HK government to bulldoze the copyright bill through LegCo, as it recently did with the IT Development Bureau, and then immediately and earnestly start work on an Internet Bill of Rights. No delaying until after the next Chief Executive election.

Whether the HK government is brave enough to differentiate itself from its political masters in Beijing was doubtful before events of the last weeks. Now it has an opportunity to do the right thing.

Aside from the bookseller kidnappings, December saw a couple of other scary scenarios emerge.

At the World Internet Forum, Chinese president Xi Jinping asserted China’s right to govern the Web according to its own rules. And China edged forward with a new cyber-security law that is likely to require companies operating in China to provide software backdoors to the Chinese security services. That is a development likely to keep Facebook and Google out of China for a while longer.

If the Hong Kong government does not go ahead with an Internet rights bill and it prefers to self-censor, then it increases the risk that HK becomes just another mainland Chinese city — a nightmare scenario for HK government and citizens alike.

Instead, if it succeeds with a Rights Bill, it could keep Hong Kong, on China’s doorstep, as relevant as it was through the decades when China had a closed economy; as a portal to China, but built on a common law system with Western-style separation of powers.

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  1. KC Kung says:

    There is already a Bill of Rights, plus a mini-constitution called the Basic Law (albeit with freedom by the Chinese legislature to “interpret” its provisions as it wishes) with all those rights that one expects from a modern constitution… It’s more a matter of abiding by those rights by those in power

  2. Jim Evanhoe says:

    We are working on just that A Bill of Rights and a new Trade Agreement with China that if they don’t put an end to illegal drugs coming out of CHINA (Meth is being shipped to Australia reference Australia’s AFP) sanction against China will be placed on all imports coming into the USA market from China. These fees will not be able to be passed down to the consumer – the Chinese Government – will pay them or TRADE as we know it today with China will end until China gets a grip on Drug Criminals. They must be executed. PERIOD!
    TRUMP 2016 – the 45th US President – ends the Drug Bull Sh__ in the USA. Currently in Australia and the USA 100s of 1,000s of people from all walks of life have died since Obama took office and allowed Social decay to reach a point where Chicago is inundated with drugs and gun violence. He says he cares but the FACTS prove he doesn’t: Obama allowed the criminal bank HSBC to walk away from Drug Cartel Money Laundering in 2012-13 the Sinaloa Drug Cartel of Mexico – documented in “Rollingstone” by Matt Taibbi “TOO BIG TO JAIL” and again Obama allowed the supplying of weapons to the Sinaloa Cartel in what is called “Fast & Furious” this is the Cartel supplying deadly drugs to the street gangs in Chicago and the drug money to buy stolen guns…..Obama is a Fraud.

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