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14. Who owns the copyright in a work? Would different categories of work result in different ownership of copyright?

The basic rule of ownership is that the author — the person who creates the work — is the first owner of copyright in that work. Under the Copyright Ordinance, the author of a work differs from one category of works to another. The following table summarises the authorship for each category of work (see section 11 of the Copyright Ordinance).


Category of WorkAuthor of Work
Literary WorksThe creator
Dramatic WorksThe creator
Musical WorksThe creator
Artistic WorksThe creator
Sound RecordingsThe producer
FilmsThe producer and the principal director
BroadcastsThe person making the broadcast
Cable ProgrammesThe person providing the cable programme service in which the programme is included
Typographical arrangements of published editionsThe publisher

For collaborative works involving more than one author, if the contribution of each author is distinct from that of the other authors, then each is the author of his own part ("distinct authorship") . But if the contribution of each author is not distinct from that of the other authors, then all the authors collectively are the joint authors of the work ("joint authorship") .


Accordingly, for works of distinct authorship, the basic rule is that each author owns the copyright in his own part. For works of joint authorship, all the authors collectively own the copyright in the work in equal shares. In such a case, if one joint author dies, his share of the copyright will pass on to his successors and not the other joint authors.


The above basic rule on ownership is subject to two important exceptions relating respectively to employee works and commissioned works.


  • For works created by an employee within his normal duties of employment, the copyright in the work belongs to the employer, unless there is an agreement to the contrary.
  • For commissioned works (i.e. works developed by an independent author on commission from other person or company), ownership of copyright is determined by the agreement between the person/organisation that commissioned the work and the independent author.

In the case of a commissioned work, even if the person/organization that commissioned the work is not the copyright owner, that person/organisation will nonetheless enjoy two important rights under section 15(2) of the Copyright Ordinance:


  • an exclusive licence to exploit the commissioned work for all purposes that could reasonably have been contemplated by him and the author;
  • the power to restrain any exploitation of the commissioned work for any purpose against which he could reasonably take objection.