After the unexpected adjournment of the Legislative Council meeting on the controversial copyright bill, a lawmaker is planning to propose an unprecedented way out for the constantly delayed debate.
Although deliberations on the bill commenced in December last year, on Thursday lawmakers were only beginning to discuss the amendments on the bill.
LegCo president Jasper Tsang said he would set up a meeting with lawmakers from both the pro-Beijing and pan-democratic camps within a day or two to review the situation and find a way out.
“This situation, this phenomenon, I believe is totally unacceptable to the public,” he said.
Labour Party lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan said the problem may not be resolved even if Tsang acts as a middleman.
Instead, Ho said she may propose a motion to transfer the debate to a new select committee rather than the general assembly, citing rule 55(1)(a) of the LegCo rules of procedures.
A select committee is established for in-depth consideration of matters or bills referred by the Council. Where so authorized by the Council, select committees may, as required when exercising its powers and functions, summon persons concerned to attend before the committee to give evidence or to produce documents. As soon as a select committee has completed consideration of the matter or bill referred to it, it reports to the Council and is thereupon dissolved.
Ho said pan-democrat lawmakers welcome government officials and copyright owners to sit down and discuss the bill with them, in order to better protect freedom of information.
When asked about Ho’s suggestion, LegCo president Tsang said that there were both technical and political questions to be answered.
“This is within the rules of procedures, but we have never implemented this arrangement,” Tsang said. “The secretariat of the Council is looking into this matter seriously.”
“Pan-democrats do not want the bill to pass unless the government accepts their amendments,” Tsang added. “But on the other hand, there has been some [suggestions] that if the amendments are accepted, those who support the bill would rather see [it] rejected, including some pro-Beijing camp members.”
Tsang said that since there are only a few months left in the Council’s current term of office, the bill may expire if it is transferred to a select committee. If the legislative process is not completed in time, it will have to be restarted in the next term.
According to rule 55(1)(b) of LegCo’s rules of procedures, the president has exceptional powers to direct that the bill be committed to a select committee. Tsang said he would not actively use this power, and the more appropriate means is to let the Council decide through a debate.
Differences in views
Pan-democrat lawmakers have waged a filibuster to stall the debate on Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014, which has faced major opposition from local netizens who fear it may curb internet freedoms. Some are concerned the new amendments could make it an offence to live stream game-playing and to screen-capture television programmes or movies.
However, the government and copyright owner associations have said that the bill has provided adequate exemptions in non-profit uses of copyright works, and that netizens should not be worried about being prosecuted for criminal infringement of copyright.
Pan-democrats have proposed three major amendments to include “contract override,” “fair use” and “user-generated content” provisions to address these concerns.
A “contract override” provision would override the contractual terms imposed by copyright owners to prohibit derivative works within the bill’s six exempted proposes of use: namely “parody,” “satire,” “pastiche,” “caricature,” “quotation” or “reporting or commenting on current events.”
Allowances for “fair use” have also been proposed to protect non-profit personal derivative works.