Sun reflecting on RPC building.

Copyright rules in Hong Kong

Published on 23 January 2018

Get to grips with the framework of copyright law in Hong Kong with the 2018 TerraLex Cross-Border Copyright Guide.

What are the main sources of copyright law in Hong Kong?

No articles on the laws of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) should be written without a brief introduction to the Basic Law. The Basic Law was adopted on 4 April 1990 by the Seventh National People's Congress (NPC) of the People’s Republic of China (Mainland China). It came into effect on 1 July 1997, the day the sovereignty of HKSAR reverted to Mainland China.

Under Article 5 of the Basic Law, HKSAR shall continue with its capitalist system and way of life for 50 years from 1997, to 2047. Furthermore, under Article 8 of the Basic Law, the laws previously in force in HKSAR – that is, the common law, rules of equity, ordinances, subordinate legislation and customary law – shall be maintained, except for any that contravene the Basic Law, and subject to any amendment by the legislature of HKSAR.

To put it simply, HKSAR maintains its own set of laws despite being part of China. 

Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014

On 18 June 2014, the HKSAR Government introduced the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014 (the Bill) to the Legislative Council with the aim of keeping the Hong Kong copyright regime in step with technological advancements (notably the internet). The key amendments proposed in the Bill were as follows:

  • Provide for fair dealing exceptions for the purposes of –
  • Parody, satire, caricature and pastiche
  • Commenting on current events
  • Quotation
  • Temporary reproduction of copyright works by online service providers
  • Media shifting of sound recording
  • Provide for criminal sanctions against unauthorised communication of copyright works to the public
  • Introduce a new exclusive right for copyright owners to communicate their works to the public through any mode of electronic transmission
  • Establishing statutory safe harbour for online service providers so that their liabilities for copyright infringement occurring on their service platforms could be limited under certain conditions.

The Bill created a heated political debate and faced opposition by copyright work users, as they saw it as removing grey areas in copyright protection and encouraging copyright owners to take actions against common online activities such as parodies and the modification and adaptation of lyrics, thereby suppressing freedom of expression of the general public.

Consequently, the Bill was not passed by the Legislative Council in March 2016. Although the Government announced at the time that it would not persist with the Bill, there may be further developments with respect to this area of law following the election of a new Chief Executive.

Update on copyright exceptions for persons with print disability

The HKSAR Government launched a public consultation on 9 May 2017 to gauge views on areas in the Copyright Ordinance which might need to be amended to align with the Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired or print disabled.

Although the existing copyright exceptions in the Copyright Ordinance are, to a large extent, in conformity with the Marrakesh Treaty, the HKSAR Government considered that it is an appropriate time to conduct a review of Copyright Ordinance to ensure the latest international standards have been complied with. The issues that require review are:

  • Whether the definition of ‘beneficiary person’ should extend to include persons with perceptual or reading disability
  • Improvements regarding the scope of ‘specified body’
  • Whether the types of copyright works covered by the print disability-related exceptions should include ‘works in audio form’
  • In relation to the acts which could be performed by persons with a print disability and/or specified bodies, whether ‘supply of accessible copies to beneficiary persons’ should cover ‘distribution’ and ‘making available to the public’, and whether there should be an additional exception regarding ‘right of public performance’
  • Improvements regarding the conditions to be met under the existing provisions
  • The application of anti-circumvention of technological measures provisions to beneficiary persons and whether they should be exempted from such measures, and
  • Provision for cross-border exchange (ie export and import) of accessible copies.

The three-month consultation period ended on 9 August 2017. The proposed amendments to the Copyright Ordinance with respect to print disability will hopefully be launched in the near future.

To find out more about subsistence of copyright, ownership, infringement, remedies, enforcement and copyright reform in Hong Kong, download the 2018 TerraLex Cross-Border Copyright Guide.