This guide is intended to provide a brief introduction and answer frequently asked questions. It does not seek to be exhaustive and definitely cannot be taken as legal advice.

If you need legal support, we recommend that you contact colleagues at the HKBU Knowledge Transfer Office as they work with solicitors and legal advisers on a daily basis and can offer in-depth consultations and professional advice.

Q1 | What is copyright, and what can I do with it?

Copyright is the right given to the owner of an original work, both print or from the online environment, including:

  1. Literary works such as books and computer software

  2. Musical works such as musical compositions

  3. Dramatic works such as plays

  4. Artistic works such as drawings, paintings and sculptures, sound recordings, films, broadcasts and cable programmes

  5. Typographical arrangement of published editions of literary, dramatic or musical works

  6. Performers' performances

You as the copyright owner has exclusive rights to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute, copy, perform or display your work. Unless you choose to transfer all or part of these rights as is often the case when signing copyright transfer agreements with publishers, you keep all your rights. Anyone who exercises these rights without your permission (except as in fair dealing) is deemed to commit copyright infringement.

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Q2 | How long does copyright last?

Copyright does not last forever. Unlike the U.S. where protection is for 70 years, copyright protection in Hong Kong is for 50 years depending on the nature of your work:

  1. Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works and films (in general)

50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author died. However, upon death of the author or creator, copyright passes on the heirs so even though Picasso is dead, his works are still protected.

  1. Sound recording

50 years from the time it is made, or if during that period it is released, 50 years from the date of release.

  1. Performance

50 years from the time the performance takes place or, if during that 50 year period, a recording of the performance is released, the protection lasts for 50 years from the date of release.

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Q3 | Do I need to register my copyright? How and where is it protected?

Copyright is automatic - it arises when a work is created. Unlike other intellectual property such as patents, trademarks and industrial designs, you do not need to register for copyright protection. In fact, there is no official registry in Hong Kong for copyright registration. Whether your work has aesthetic value or is creative does not matter at all. An item as simple as a photograph taken by anyone is automatically protected.

Hong Kong is also bound by a group of international treaties to respect copyright in works of creators from other places, and most of the world is covered by these treaties. Your work is therefore recognized and protected in all parts of China (including Taiwan) and around the world.

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Q4 | Are there any copyright exceptions?

Exceptions in copyright law are intended to balance the rights of the owners and society as a whole for public good. This forms the basis for the fair dealing criteria. A work will only be infringed if a substantial part is taken, not only in terms of quantity but also quality. A musician copying a very catchy phrase from another song can be infringement even if that phrase is very short.

Subject to conditions, fair dealing for research and private study; criticism, review and news reporting, for use of works in library and school are permitted. Nevertheless you should still be cautious about possible infringement such as photocopying an unreasonable amount of a book. (See Q1 and Q2 on Fair Dealing & CC License.)

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Q5 | How can I identify my copyright ownership?

It is good practice to include a copyright notice in your published work to indicate your ownership. The standard format is: © [year of first publication]. [name of copyright owner]. All rights reserved.

Example: © 2018. Hong Kong Baptist University. All rights reserved.

Please note however, that use of the '©' mark is not a sign of registration. it is simply a signal to others to respect your rights as the owner.

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Q6 | Why is copyright so confusing and hard to understand?

Like all intellectual property laws, copyright laws are complex and can be seen as confusing, particularly when aspects such as fair dealing can appear to be unclear. The Intellectual Property Department tells us that it is best to understand copyright, as all other Intellectual property laws, that it is designed to "strike a balance between rights and responsibilities".

A good way to answer the above question is, as IPD said, instead of asking yourself "do I have the right to do this?", it is better to consider "would it be fair for someone to do this to me?".

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