The Executive Yuan on Thursday last week passed what is billed as the largest draft amendment to the nation’s copyright laws in 20 years, and sent it to the Legislative Yuan for review.
Copyright law is crucial for the dissemination of ideas and, with the rapid changes and development of the means of dissemination of ideas, these laws need to be amended regularly if they are to remain relevant.
Since the complete overhaul of the nation’s copyright laws in 1992, there have been very few major revisions.
However, the means of dissemination of ideas continue to change, and in that time have moved from paper and audio and visual recordings to virtual media as the world progresses further into the digital age.
The 1992 copyright law revisions were largely based on those of Japan and South Korea, but in the 30 years since then, Tokyo has revised its copyright laws almost every two or three years, and Seoul has kept pace. It is only Taiwan that has lagged behind.
Even now, under existing copyright laws in Taiwan, distance learning is illegal unless authorization is obtained, and the fair use of works for libraries and school textbooks remains stuck in the paper era.
Meanwhile, neither the Executive Yuan nor the Legislative Yuan is able to use other people’s works on the Internet for administrative or legislative purposes.
At this time, when the world is still prey to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Internet is the main medium through which information is disseminated, yet Taiwan’s copyright laws lag behind the rest of the world to an absurd degree.
In 2009, the Intellectual Property Office brought together copyright law experts and held a series of consultations to discuss amending the laws. The group met on more than 70 occasions, with each meeting lasting two-and-a-half hours, until it completed a comprehensive copyright law amendment proposal in 2016 and sent it to the legislature for review in 2017.
Due to the complexity of the legislation and the lack of voter engagement on the topic, it languished in the legislature for three years, largely ignored.
According to Article 13 of the Law Governing the Legislative Yuan’s Power (立法院職權行使法), at the end of each legislative session, with the exception of the budget and civil petitions, unresolved motions cannot be considered in the next session.
As a result, the motion was sent back last year and, concerned that the entire amendment proposal would meet the same fate as the one submitted in 2017, the office prepared a truncated version to be submitted to the Executive Yuan. Nonetheless, this proposal is the largest copyright law revision in two decades.
That this copyright law draft amendment proposal was passed by the Executive Yuan so quickly must have been because Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) realizes that these revisions can no longer be delayed, as the digital age is upon us, and pushed them up the schedule.
A DIFFERENT FATE?
However, there is no guarantee that the proposal would not be left to languish in the legislature for three years, as was the fate of its predecessor, and have to be resubmitted in 2025.
If that does happen, then distance learning in Taiwan will continue to be illegal, and the fair use of publications within libraries, school textbooks and within the executive and legislative branches will continue to be stuck in the age of paper.
Hsiao Hsiung-lin is a managing partner at the North Star Copyright Law Office.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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