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In general, copyright is the right given to the owner of an original work. This right can subsist in literary works such as books and computer software, musical works such as musical compositions, dramatic works such as plays, artistic works such as drawings, paintings and sculptures, sound recordings, films, broadcasts, cable programmes and the topographical arrangement of published editions of literary, dramatic or musical works, as well as performers' performances. Copyright works made available on the Internet environment are also protected.


In fact, the subsistence of copyright does not require the work to have an aesthetic value nor to be clever nor very creative. It exists even in an item as simple as a photograph taken by an ordinary person in daily life.


Copyright is an automatic right. It arises when a work is created. Unlike other intellectual property rights such as patents, trademarks and industrial designs, it is not necessary to register a copyright in Hong Kong in order to get protection under the law.

Copyright protects creativity. The efforts of writers, artists, designers, software programmers and other talents need to and should be protected so as to create an environment where creativity can flourish and hard work can be rewarded. In return, the public benefits from the creations.


Hong Kong is a creative place. Our film production, television production, sound recording production, publications, fashion, jewellery and graphical design are known world-wide and enjoy a ready market overseas. Hong Kong is also an international trading centre. We need to provide the necessary intellectual property rights protection, including copyright, to our investors to assure them of a free and fair environment in which to do business.

Copyright law tries to maintain a balance between the rights of copyright owners for adequate payment for the use of their works, and the rights of society as a whole to have access to ideas and information. It is often said that copyright does not protect ideas, but only the expression or product of ideas. For example, you will probably infringe the copyright in a recipe book if you photocopy it without authorisation. But if you use the recipe to make a meal, copyright in the book is not infringed.


Hong Kong's new Copyright Ordinance came into effect on 27 June 1997. It provides comprehensive protection for recognised categories of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, as well as for films, television broadcasts and cable diffusion, and works made available to the public on the Internet. In relation to performances, persons who have exclusive recording contracts with performers are also entitled to protection.


There are no formalities required to obtain copyright protection for a work in Hong Kong. Works of authors from any place in the world, or works first published anywhere in the world, also qualify for copyright protection in Hong Kong.


Through the application of many international copyright conventions in Hong Kong, i.e. the Berne Convention, Universal Copyright Convention, the Phonograms Convention and the World Trade Organisation - Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, your work is also protected in most countries and territories in the world.

A musical sound recording is defined in the amendment Ordinance to mean a sound recording the whole or a predominant part of which consists of the whole or any part of a musical work or a musical work and a related literary work.

A musical visual recording is defined in the amendment Ordinance to mean a film with an accompanying sound-track, the whole or a predominant part of which sound-track consists of the whole or any part of a musical work or a musical work and a related literary work.

The author of a work is the first owner of any copyright in it. Thus, the writer of a book is the first right owner. For employee works, the employer is the first copyright owner unless alternative agreement has been made. In other words, the employer has the right to all works produced by his or her employees.


For commissioned works, the ownership of copyright depends on the agreement between the parties.

The general rule is that copyright lasts until 50 years after the creator of the work dies. However, there are minor variations to this depending on the type of work.

According to the Copyright Ordinance of Hong Kong SAR, copyright subsists in musical sound/visual recordings such as music videos and/or karaoke videos and they are usually embodied in the format of records, tapes, cassettes, compact discs, laser discs and cartridges, etc. It is imperative to note that copyright in musical sound/visual recordings is entirely separate and distinct from the copyright in the musical and/or literary works (better known as compositions or composers’ rights) be that a dramatic or non dramatic work. Under the Copyright Ordinance, Copyright owner of a musical sound/visual recording has the exclusive rights, among others, to


  • copy the musical sound/visual recording (Section 23);
  • to issue copies of the musical sound/visual recording to the public (Section 24);
  • to rent copies of the musical sound/visual recording to the public (Section 25);
  • to make available copies of the musical sound/visual recording to the public (Section 26);
  • to perform, show or play the musical sound/visual recording in public (Section 27);
  • to broadcast the musical sound/visual recording or include it in a cable programme service (Section 28);
  • to make an adaptation of the work or do any of the above in relation to an adaptation ( Section 29).


Any person who, without the license of the copyright owner, does or authorized other person to do any of the acts referred above, infringes copyright in the musical sound/visual recording and the infringer is liable to civil proceedings, irrespective whether the infringer knows or ought to have known the copyright subsists in that musical sound/visual recording, and may also be liable to criminal prosecution.

Under the Copyright Ordinance, “Sound Recording” means a recording of sounds, from which the sounds may be reproduced; or a recording of the whole or any part of a literary, dramatic or musical work, from which sounds reproducing the work or part may be produced, regardless of the medium on which the recordings is made or the method by which the sounds are reproduced and produced. Simply expressed, sound recordings embodied in cassette tapes, compact discs and cartridges etc. are protected by virtue of Section 6 of the Copyright Ordinance.


“Film” means a recording on any medium from which a moving image may by any means be produced. The sound track accompanying a film is to be treated as part of the film. Simply expressed, music videos and/or karaoke videos are considered to be films protected by virtue of Section 7 of the Copyright Ordinance. 


For more details about the Copyright Law in Hong Kong, please visit the website of Intellectual Property Department of HKSAR: www.ipd.gov.hk