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Library Notice

What the Law of Copyright protects?

Copyright protects the expression of ideas. It does not protect the underlying ideas themselves. What does that mean? Well, your recipe for a Chinese dish is an 'idea'. You can write it down, or record a sound or video tape explaining the recipe or draw a set of diagrams or take some photographs explaining how to prepare the dish. When you have done that, copyright law protects your written explanation, or sound or video recording, or your drawings or photographs: no-one is allowed to copy them or publish or broadcast them unless you give permission. But people who follow your instructions, learn the ideas behind them, teach them to other people or even open a restaurant specializing in serving your special dish, would not be infringing your copyright.

The written expression of an idea is called a 'work' in copyright law. Here are examples of 'works' which can be protected in the HKSAR:

  • literary works (e.g. books, lyrics)
  • dramatic works (include dance or mime)
  • music (the composer's rights)
  • artistic graphics and sculpture
  • photographs
  • computer software
  • sound recordings (a person who makes a sound recording has separate rights from the composer and performer)
  • films
  • broadcasts (a broadcaster can have separate rights from the author, performer or recording studio)
  • cable programmes
  • typographical lay-outs of published editions of works

Furthermore, performers of live performances have a separate right to prevent unauthourised exploitation of their performances.

Rights of Copyright Owner

The exclusive rights that copyright law gives to the creator of the works include:

  • copying,
  • issuing copies to the public (publishing),
  • renting copies of the works to the public (e.g. films, computer programs, sound recordings, comic books etc),
  • making copies of works available on the internet,
  • performing, showing or playing works in public,
  • broadcasting works by wireless or cable; and
  • adapting (e.g. translating a work or adapting a two-dimensional plan to a three-dimensional object.)

If a work is used in one of the ways described above without the creator's permission, it is an 'infringing' copy, performance or broadcast. There are also some things you are not allowed to do with an infringing copy of a work: you may not knowingly -

  • import to Hong Kong
  • export from Hong Kong
  • possess for trade or business purposes
  • sell
  • distribute

an infringing copy or recording of a work. Acts like these are known as 'secondary infringement'. Some of these acts can result in criminal prosecution.

Duration of Copyright Protect in Hong Kong

The monopoly that copyright law gives to the creator does not last forever: the 'golden number' for copyright protection is fifty years. But that fifty years operates differently depending on the nature of the work. Note another important point here: copyright does not get registered. It arises naturally from the moment a 'work' is first reduced to a permanent form. Use of the '© ' mark is not a sign of registration: it is a warning to respect the copyright-owner's rights.

Please refer to the HKSAR Intellectual Property Department webpage for more details.

Copyright Licensing Bodies in Hong Kong

At present, there are six registered Copyright Licensing Bodies in Hong Kong.

  • Composers and Authors Society of Hong Kong Limited
  • Hong Kong Recording Industry Alliance Limited
  • Motion Picture Licensing Company (Hong Kong) Limited
  • Phonographic Performance (South East Asia) Limited
  • The Hong Kong Copyright Licensing Association Limited
  • The Hong Kong Reprographic Rights Licensing Society Limited

In case you need to use a work which is not covered by the fair dealing exemption, you should seek permission from the copyright owners or contact the above licensing bodies before using their works.

Please refer to the web site of HKSAR Intellectual Property Department for more details.