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22. Does the same copyright law apply to electronic materials as printed materials?

Yes. Provided that a work meets the criteria for copyright, it will enjoy protection under the Copyright Ordinance, regardless of whether it is in electronic form or printed form. Thus in the case of a printed work, if you are not licensed by the copyright owner, you will not have the right to photocopy the printed work, nor the right to scan the printed work and turn it into an electronic file. Similarly, in the case of a work in electronic form, unless you have the permission of the copyright owner, you are not allowed to download the work in electronic form from the Internet and store it on the hard disk of your computer, or make a hard copy of the work by printing.


However, there is one unique feature of electronic materials which distinguishes them from printed materials. If a person views or listens to a work in electronic form on the Internet, there will inevitably be transient or incidental copies of the work made in the process, e.g. temporary copies made on the server of the Internet Service Provider and on the person's computer. Strictly speaking, such transient or incidental copying also infringes copyright. Because of this, the Copyright Ordinance has a special provision exempting liability for all transient or incidental copying which is technically required for the viewing or listening of a work on the Internet (see section 65 of the Copyright Ordinance). This is to avoid making internet browsing an act of infringement. As the provision is targeted at works in electronic form, it does not apply to works in printed form.


Please also note that "transient or incidental copying" usually refers to copy in temporary or volatile storage (e.g., RAM) which is necessary for viewing a webpage. If you download a song or film from the Internet (without paying the prescribed fee), it is a copyright infringement because the copy you made is not a transient nor incidental copy. It is a permanent copy intentionally kept by you in your hard disk.