Following is a question by the Hon Charles Peter Mok and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, in the Legislative Council today (February 25):
The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (Treaty) was adopted in Marrakesh under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on June 27, 2013. The Treaty requires contracting parties to adopt national law provisions that permit the reproduction, distribution and making available of published works in accessible formats through setting limitations and exceptions to the rights of copyright owners. Some associations for and of the blind have pointed out that the implementation of the Treaty in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) will bring enormous benefits to persons with print disabilities (PPDs) and at the same time be conducive to the development of accessible book production services to the international community. The Treaty will take effect after 20 contracting parties have deposited their instruments of ratifications to WIPO. China’s ratification of the Treaty is required for it to be applicable to Hong Kong, but China has not yet completed the ratification process. On amending the Copyright Ordinance (Cap. 528) to make published works available in formats accessible to PPDs, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has assessed if the Treaty will bring significant social benefits to the PPDs in HKSAR; if so, of the outcome;
(2) what measures it has taken or intends to take in preparing the local information and communications technology industry, publishing industry, education sector, and providers of social service to PPDs for the implementation of the Treaty in HKSAR and gaining its potential benefits; if such measures are not available, of the reasons for that;
(3) whether it will advise the Central People’s Government the priority and importance of ratifying the Treaty and the implications of the implementation of the Treaty on HKSAR; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(4) whether it will conduct consultation on amending the Copyright Ordinance to introduce new exemptions for the provision of accessible versions of learning resources for persons with dyslexia; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
To maintain a reasonable balance between copyright protection and the use of copyright works, the Copyright Ordinance (Cap. 528) has over 60 provisions specifying a number of permitted acts which may be done in relation to copyright works notwithstanding the subsistence of copyright, and thus attracting neither civil nor criminal liability.
Notably, sections 40A to F provide for specific copyright exceptions to cater for the needs of persons with a print disability (PPDs) (Note). Sections 38 and 41A provide for copyright exceptions for the purposes of research, private study, giving or receiving instruction. PPDs may rely on the above sections to use copyright works without attracting legal liability.
We are aware that a number of countries adopted the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (Treaty) in June 2013. The Treaty aims to introduce a standard set of copyright limitations and exceptions to facilitate access to printed works for persons who are visually impaired or with other print disabilities to enable them to seek, receive and impart information from printed material on an equal basis with others. It also requires Contracting Parties to allow cross-border exchange of accessible copies if an accessible format copy is made pursuant to national law.
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, the Treaty is not yet in force as only six Contracting Parties have completed the ratification process to date. We understand that China is a Contracting Party to the Treaty but its ratification process has not been completed.
Our reply to the Hon Charles Peter Mok’s questions is as follows:
(1) We appreciate that the scope of the exceptions permitted under the Treaty is wider than those available under our current legislation and will provide for greater flexibility for the beneficiary persons. Under the Treaty, a person who has a perceptual or reading disability which cannot be improved to give visual function substantially equivalent to that of a person who has no such disability and so is unable to read printed works to substantially the same degree as a person without a disability may benefit from the exception.
(2) and (4) Since its enactment in 1997, the Copyright Ordinance has been subject to a number of updating exercises in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2009 to keep in pace with the latest social, economic and technological developments. At present, the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014 containing a package of measures under the digital agenda is being scrutinised by a Bills Committee. At the same time, we have been identifying a number of copyright issues that need to be reviewed following the passage of the current Bill, including the possible application of the Treaty to Hong Kong.
As in previous updating exercises, we will need to consult stakeholders and the general public on reviewing copyright issues and formulating legislative proposals. As always, it is important to strike a fair balance between different interests in putting up a package of recommended measures to the legislature. Regarding the possible application of the Treaty to Hong Kong, the local information and communications technology industry, publishing industry, education sector, and providers of social service to PPDs, apart from copyright owners in general, are all important stakeholders that we will need to reach out to for views on the costs and benefits and the preparations needed.
(3) Article 153(1) of the Basic Law provides that “[t]he application to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of international agreements to which the People’s Republic of China is or becomes a party shall be decided by the Central People’s Government, in accordance with the circumstances and needs of the Region, and after seeking the views of the government of the Region”. We will closely monitor the progress of ratification/accession of the Treaty by the Contracting Parties, including China, and discuss the matter with the Central People’s Government as appropriate.
(Note) Section 40A gives definition of “print disability”-
(b) an impairment of his visual function which cannot be improved by the use of corrective lens to a level that would normally be acceptable for reading without a special level or kind of light;
(c) inability, through physical disability, to hold or manipulate a book; or
(d) inability, through physical disability, to focus or move his eyes to the extent that would normally be acceptable for reading.
Ends/Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Issued at HKT 12:50