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Copyright is an automatic right which arises on the creation of a work, provided that it falls within one of the protectable categories. It is not necessary to register a copyright in Hong Kong for legal protection.

In Hong Kong, films are protected by copyright. Such protection applies whether the film is distributed in Hong Kong or overseas and regardless of the place of domicile of the producer or principal director, or the place of incorporation of the production company.

Under Hong Kong’s copyright law, a “film” is defined as a recording on any medium from which a moving image may be produced by any means. A film soundtrack is considered part of the film. However, copyright does not subsist in a film copied from a previous film.

The duration of copyright protection for a film is determined according to the lifetime of either the principal director, the screenplay author, the scriptwriter or the composer of the music specially created for and used in the film, whoever dies last. The copyright protection period is 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last of the aforementioned persons dies. If none of the above can be identified, the protection period will be 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the film is first made, or if the film is made available to the public during that period, 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was first made available to the public.

Infringement of copyright in films includes the doing of or authorising another person to do any of the following acts without the permission of the copyright owner:

  • Copying;
  • Issuing copies of the film to the public;
  • Renting copies of the film to the public;
  • Making available copies of the film to the public via the internet;
  • Performing, playing or showing the film in public;
  • Broadcasting the film or including it in a cable programme service;
  • Importing or exporting an infringing copy of the film other than for private and domestic use;
  • Possessing an infringing copy for the purpose of or in the course of any trade or business;
  • Selling or letting for hire, or offering or exposing for sale or hire, an infringing copy of the film; and
  • Distributing an infringing copy for the purpose of or in the course of any trade or business, or if not for the aforementioned purpose, the distribution is to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the copyright owner.

In an action for infringement, the copyright owner may seek civil remedies against the infringer, normally in the form of damages, injunctions, an account of profits or an order for delivery up.

Infringement of copyright in a film may also lead to criminal liabilities. The offender is liable on conviction to a maximum penalty of HK$50,000 in respect of each infringing copy and imprisonment for four years.

A magistrate may issue a warrant empowering an authorised officer to enter and search any place reasonably suspected of containing any items that appear to be infringing copies or tools for making such copies. The authorised officer may seize, remove or detain such items. Any such seized items are liable to forfeiture.

To prevent bootlegging in places of public entertainment, it is an offence for anyone to possess, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, any video recording equipment in a cinema, theatre or concert hall used to screen films or stage performances. The maximum penalty on first conviction is a fine of HK$5,000, and on a second or subsequent conviction, a fine of HK$50,000 and imprisonment for three months.