Intellectual Property
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B. Are there any "permitted acts" which may be exempt from the infringement of copyright?

Under the Copyright Ordinance, there are a number of permitted acts which will not constitute copyright infringement (see sections 37-88 of the Copyright Ordinance). These permitted acts cover a wide range of activities relating to education, library and archives, public administration, and miscellaneous use of copyright works. The provisions defining the permitted acts are often detailed and specific. You are advised to read them carefully and note the conditions under which the relevant acts will not be regarded as copyright infringement. The information in this section only gives you some preliminary ideas for reference purposes and you must consult a lawyer if you have further queries.

Fair Dealing

Among the permitted acts, the most important and general permitted acts are those of "fair dealing". Under the Copyright Ordinance, fair dealing involves two elements:

  1. the dealing must be fair; and
  2. the purpose of the dealing must be confined to seven prescribed purposes — research, private study (section 38 of the Copyright Ordinance), criticism, review/comment, news reporting (section 39), education (section 41A), or public administration (section 54A).

Any act which is carried out for other purposes cannot be fair dealing, including acts carried out for private use or charity. This is in stark contrast to the defence of "fair use" under the United States copyright law, which is not confined to certain prescribed purposes and which thus serves as a general defence against accusations of copyright infringement.

In determining whether any dealing with a copyright work is fair, the court willconsider the following four factors (section 38(3), section 41A(2), and section 54A(2)) of the Copyright Ordinance):

  1. the purpose and nature of the dealing;
  2. the nature of the work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion dealt with in relation to the original work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the dealing on the potential market for or value of the work.

Above all, the primary consideration for fair dealing is that the dealing should not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work by the copyright owner and should not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the copyright owner (section 37(3)).

Generally speaking, if a dealing involves copying part of a work which is necessary for one of the seven prescribed purposes and which is not a substitute for buying a copy of the work, the dealing will more likely be permitted as one of fair dealing. On the other hand, if the dealing is not for any of the seven prescribed purposes, or it involves copying an excessive part of a work, or it is in substance a substitute for buying a copy for the work, the dealing will less likely be regarded as one of fair dealing. The question is always one of degree and impression.

Education

The exemption for fair dealing for the purposes of education (section 41A) expressly allows teachers to place copies of copyright works on the school's Intranet for teaching purposes. Apart from the four factors for determining if a dealing is fair (see discussions under "Fair Dealing"), placing copies of copyright works on the school's Intranet for teaching purposes is subject to two further conditions:

  1. there are technological measures adopted to restrict access to the copies to ensure that they are made available only to persons who need to use them for the purposes of teaching or learning; AND
  2. the copies are not stored in the Intranet for a period longer than is necessary or, in any event, longer than 12 consecutive months.

In addition to fair dealing, the Copyright Ordinance also contains specific provisions permitting certain acts done for educational purposes. The more important permitted acts in this regard include the following:

  • things done for the purposes of instruction or examination (section 41);
  • performing, playing or showing of works in the course of school activities (section 43);
  • recording of broadcasts and cable programmes by schools for educational purposes (section 44).

Other Permitted Acts

There are other permitted acts under the Copyright Ordinance. The more important ones include the following:

  • copying by librarians or archivists (sections 46-53);
  • acts done for proceedings of the Legislative Council or judicial proceedings (section 54);
  • copying of materials open to public inspection or on official registers (section 56);
  • copying and making of an adaptation of a computer program by the lawful user (sections 60-61);
  • transient and incidental copying technically required for the viewing or listening of a work on the Internet (section 65);
  • public reading or recitation of extracts from published works (section 68);
  • acts done in respect of artistic works on public display (section 71);
  • performing, showing or playing of works for the purposes of a club, society, etc (section 76);
  • recording for purposes of time-shifting (please refer to question 3);
  • making of photographs of television broadcasts or cable programmes (section 80);
  • free public showing or playing of broadcasts or cable programmes (section 81).

The provisions defining these permitted acts are detailed and specific. One is advised to read them carefully and to seek legal advice if necessary.

  1. Is it true that copyright law allows me to photocopy, for example, not more than 10% of a book?
  2. I am a medical doctor and have my own clinic. Can I play movie DVDs in my clinic to entertain my patients while they are waiting?
  3. I work night shifts and cannot watch my favourite television programmes when they are shown. Can I record them so that I can watch them when I am off from work?
  4. I have 20 computers in my company and need to be cost-conscious when purchasing software. Can I install cheaper yet lawful copies of software purchased from other countries? Will it make any difference if there is an exclusive dealer of the software in Hong Kong?
  5. Will I infringe any copyright if I take photographs of buildings in Hong Kong?
  6. I am a teacher and have found a good article in a magazine. Can I make photocopies of the article and distribute them to my students for class discussion?
  7. I am a teacher and like to collect reading materials for my students. If I scan those materials and put them on my website for my students to download, will I infringe copyright? What if I put them on the school's Intranet accessible only to my students?
  8. Can a teacher copy examination questions found on the Internet and include them in his own examination paper for his students?
  9. Can schools show movies without obtaining permission from the copyright owners? What about recording radio or television programmes?
  10. My school plans to have an internal competition in which students will perform various dramas based on short novels written by local writers. Can my school do so without obtaining permission from the copyright owners?
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