Wednesday, March 07, 2007

HK govt focuses on enforcement in IP legislation

HK govt focuses on enforcement in IP legislation

Mar 1, 2007

Computerworld Hong Kong

The government has initiated a new round of consultation on "Copyright Protection in the Digital Environment." Unlike the current legislative amendment-proposals under consideration at the Legislative Council, which focus on the protection of copyrighted works-including books, newspapers, software-against copying by more conventional means, this current consultation exercise is the first time our government has taken a look at the challenges that the Internet has brought for rights owners and law enforcement.

The consultation paper starts off with the statement that "the government is committed to providing a robust copyright protection regime. This provides an environment conducive to the sustainable development of our creative industries." Then the paper follows with a number of issues for consultation, including possible criminal liability for unauthorized uploading and downloading of copyright works and the role of online service providers in relation to combating Internet piracy.

A digital copyright review is indeed long overdue, not only because of the impact on music and video sales as the record and movie industries have been complaining, but really because modern network technology has changed the way consumers are using and sharing content. It is no longer sufficient to look at the ever-evolving digital copyright regime merely from an enforcement point of view.

UK govt precedent
A look at the recently published Gowers Review on Intellectual Property in the UK, a government-commissioned study, will shed some light on how the issues can be considered in a more balanced approach. "The ideal IP system creates incentives for innovation, without unduly limiting access for consumers and follow-on innovators. It must strike the right balance in a rapidly changing world so that innovators can see further by standing on the shoulders of giants," the report stated.

Although the consultation paper in Hong Kong also admits that "we also have to take into account possible concerns in the community about the impact that stronger copyright protection in the digital environment may have on the free dissemination of information and protection of personal privacy," the issues raised in the paper are all about strengthening enforcement, with nothing about how consumer rights can be enhanced, or how innovation can be encouraged with these measures beyond a simple-minded assumption.

In comparison, for instance, the Gowers Review proposes that the intellectual property regime should target "genuinely illegitimate" activities forcefully, but at the same time introduce strictly limited legal means for private copyright, so that consumers can convert their purchased content into formats more convenient for their own use. For example, few people know that it is even illegal to copy music from a legally purchased CD to their own MP3 players-a legal predicament that the music industry has never cared to rectify for consumers all over the world.

Global pricing models
Also, no discussion on intellectual property protection for music and movie can be complete without considering relative prices, or the act of differential pricing, in the globalized market. While technology continues to push down the prices of production and reproduction of music, the price of an average CD has remained almost unchanged for more than twenty years. On average, prices of legal music CDs and charges per song for legal online download services are about three times more expensive than right across the border in China.

There is much the content industry needs to do about its own business models-they should be asking governments around the world to help them in enforcement. This is in fact not even considering the extra burden placed on the shoulders of the online service providers, which are called to provide exhaustive record-keeping on its customers, leading to a whole world of issues relating to personal privacy and higher cost. In the end, consumers and service providers must voice out for a more fair and equitable way to deal with the right of content in the digital world.

Charles Mok is the president of Internet Society Hong Kong, and ex-officio Member of Hong Kong Information Technology Federation. He has been in the IT industry for almost 20 years, and is active in a number of advisory committees and statutory bodies of the HKSAR government.


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