Industry's transformation demands 'stronger IP protection'

By Wang Yuke and Zhang Tianyuan

Industry's transformation demands 'stronger IP protection'

In the highly immersive and hypnotically engrossing digital artscape, the line between “real” and “virtual” is blurred. The once clearcut categorization of art genres becomes fuzzy. While this enables the artistic envelope to be pushed more easily and expansively, it doesn’t translate to a higher tolerance for intellectual property infringement and stakeholders in the industry have to decode the answer in no time, said panelists at the 12th Business of Intellectual Property Asia Forum on Friday.

There’s been a paradigm shift in mindset and sensibility to art and culture in recent years throughout institutions, museums, galleries and in individual artists in Hong Kong, from emphasizing “industry-based thinking” to “events-based thinking,” said Celina Chin, executive director of Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, at the forum themed “HK’s Ambitious Cultural and Arts Hub Plan Unveils Vast Opportunities for IP industries”, co-organized by China Daily. The artistic envelope is not only being pushed physically — joining up with museums and co-organizing myriad activities with their counterparts in other countries, adds Chin — but also through merging and meshing of various art forms which are seemingly independent.

A case in point was the recent “Ji” Concert held in July. “It is by no means a traditional ordinary concert featuring only the orchestra and conductor on stage. Instead, it involved lots of artists, including dancers, tai chi masters, a children’s choir, as well as behind-the-stage teams, such as set design, lighting design and costume design…” said Chin.

That a mélange of artists from assorted art genres worked together to deliver the ultimately astonishing artistic punch means that it “involves a lot of IP” in the entire production, said Chin, which makes artistic IP protection all the more important, pressing and challenging.

Putting most art productions online during the COVID-19 pandemic compelled major art and cultural players, like HKCO, to ponder over how to safeguard artists’ IP afresh. “We had to consult professionals and settle the IP issues with all the composers and different types of artists and art directors (in one single production) before we could finally go ahead with releasing the program online,” Chin said.

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government’s reorganization of virtual assets, while it’s more relevant to the financial sector, is encouraging news for art and cultural stakeholders, said Heiman Ng, head of business development at Digital Art Fair. “We are on the right track in continuing pushing the boundary when it comes to art creation,” said Ng.

A prime example of how savvy Chinese contemporary artists are employing cutting-edge technologies to perfect their artistic potency as well as cashing in on the roaring non-fungible tokens art trend, cited by Ng, is Life Fantasy, a collection by Jacky Tsai and pop singer Jay Chou, presented in Digital Art Air Hong Kong in September. The juxtaposition of contemporary art and pop music, bolstered by augmented reality technology, allows visitors a sensory immersive experience.

The future of art and cultural landscape will be dominated by the NFT market, which is beckoning against the ‘crypto crush’, Ng predicts.

The NFT market is no guarantee to secure IP ownership. Still riddled with loopholes and unsolved puzzles, the nascent NFT art scene has no shortage of complaints from “artists or original creators about being ripped off and (illegitimate) ‘copy and paste’ tactics even though they have minted their work on the blockchain,'' said Ng. “There are plenty of serious copyright infringement issues. Understandably, it’s just the beginning of the market and all stakeholders are putting in effort to optimize the market. I’d like to send the message here, ‘We’ll be here supporting all the artists, galleries and institutions, setting good examples of how we do the KYC (know your customer) for them’ ”, said Ng.

Helen So, lead of arts and culture at Our Hong Kong Foundation, used South Korea’s cultural policies as an example to explain why Hong Kong should put more effort into intellectual property creation, licensing as well as trading to gear the city up for a global hub of cultural exchanges with the rest of the world.

So highlighted the contribution of the South Korean administration to the success. The copyright bureau alone -- excluding other media and arts bureaus in South Korea -- injected about HK$539 million ($69.27 million) into copyright-related programs in 2021, while Hong Kong had a HK$217 million budget on all IP matters during the same period, So said.

“Copyright and IP need to be part of today’s cultural policy-making,” she said. “We could have further collaborations with these existing infrastructures to see if we could open up copyright information for cultural IP to better let Hong Kong’s culture and creative assets be properly recognized, valued and respected all around the world.”

Jeffrey Shaw, chair professor at the Academy of Visual Arts at Hong Kong Baptist University, said future cinema systems would be a major focus of the next generation of art technologies. Shaw is leading a team to develop the future cinema systems project, which will “push the boundaries of intelligent interaction technology in conjunction with media and art industry and cultural partners”.

“The grand challenge of the project is to transform the cinema … as (it will create) a new dimension of interactive, immersive, computational and intelligent experience,” he said.