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Prohibited Uses and Excessive Downloading
The University of Hong Kong Libraries

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HKU Libraries endeavours to offer as many as possible online database subscriptions relating to a wide range of disciplines, so to facilitate the HKU community’s education, research and overall learning experience the best we can. Our library users include HKU students, faculty members, staff and possibly other authorized walk-in users from the public.

With easy access to these valuable sources of knowledge, however, comes also the expectation that library users will use these resources reasonably and responsibly.

We would like to remind library users that excessive downloading from online databases, among other prohibited uses, could lead to a suspension of eResources access for a maximum of five months.

Below is a quick guide for library users about the dos and don’ts in using HKU Libraries-subscribed electronic resources.

  1. What does 'prohibited uses' mean?
  2. What do 'systematic download' and 'excessive download' mean?
  3. What will happen if prohibited use or systematic or excessive downloading takes place?


  1. What does ‘prohibited uses’ mean?

Typical examples of prohibited uses and authorized uses are given below:

Prohibited uses Authorized uses
  • Systematically or excessively download from online databases to get hold of massive numbers of records within a short time frame.
  • Distribute or reproduce licensed materials downloaded from our subscribed online databases or electronic resources to others.
  • Sell or trade the licensed materials.
  • Share any library logins and passwords with any unauthorized users.
  • Modify, adapt, transform, translate, or create any derivative work based on any licensed materials obtained from HKU Libraries-subscribed electronic resources.
  • Remove, obscure or modify any copyright or other notices included in the licensed materials.
  • Search electronic resources for academic and research purposes.
  • Download and print a reasonable portion of the electronic materials for personal studies and research.
  • Cite electronic records in proper citations with correct attribution to the author, publication etc.
  • Create hyperlinks to certain electronic records for specific courses of instruction offered at HKU.


HKU Libraries enters into licence agreements and pays for online database subscriptions and other electronic resources to enable library users’ access and use of these valuable materials for education and research purposes. Though each of these licences might read differently, they usually all have clauses to the effect of prohibiting certain uses as set out in the above table.


  1. What do 'systematic download' and 'excessive download' mean?

‘Systematic download’ and ‘excessive download’ refers to downloading within a short time frame one article after another, one entire issue of an e-journal after another, the complete run of an entire e-journal, one after another.

Regrettably, HKU Libraries has in the past detected certain library users’ automated downloading processes which certainly exceeded the scope of reasonable practices for education and research purposes. We remind library users that setting up robots, spiders, or web wanderers freely crawling across and scraping from our subscribed data repositories for systematic or excessive downloading is prohibited. Upon request, we will assist information providers, service operators and vendors to investigate individual users demonstrating such behaviour.


  1. What will happen if prohibited use or systematic or excessive downloading takes place?

If the operator of an online database finds evidence of prohibited use, or systematic or excessive downloading, they will contact HKU Libraries, the titular lessee of access to these electronic resources, and ask us for an accounting. They will give us a log of the unauthorized activities. Based on that information, HKU Libraries will locate the PC or workstation from which the prohibited activity initiated and the offender behind it.

Once tracked down, the offender’s library privileges will be suspended pursuant to the Policy for Tackling Excessive Downloading in eResources announced in July 2023 as follows:

  1. First time offenders: An access ban from all HKUL eResources (remote and on campus) for one month will be placed on the first time offender, any Libraries patron who is caught in any excessive downloading related activity as defined in above Q&A 2.
  2. The offender has to complete an online learning course on the ethical use of electronic resources with a passing threshold at 80% in one month;
  3. Repeat offenders (being caught more than once): A repeat offender will be put on a five-month consecutive access ban from all eResources subscribed by the Libraries. The Libraries may consider taking repeat offenders to the Disciplinary Committee for further actions.
  4. If the offender is a student, a staff member or any personnel attached to a faculty or a department, the Libraries will file a letter with details to the respective faculty or department for record or any further action needed. 

The above actions are applicable to all patrons of the Libraries including staff and students of HKU or HKU SPACE, alumni and other patrons.

Pursuant to the relevant licence agreement, the operator may peremptorily and unilaterally terminate access to this particular electronic resource from all workstations at HKU and within its extended network. Operators sometimes could impose further penalties against all users affiliated with HKU Libraries. One library user’s wilful violation could jeopardize the whole HKU community’s access to these electronic resources.

We ask for your understanding that the electronic resources you are enjoying are fruits of the authors’ and creators’ hard work, supported by the operators’ maintenance services. They do not wish to see their work being pirated away and capitalized on by undeserved third parties for their personal benefit, an illegal act equating to theft. Your respect for intellectual property is essential so the HKU community can continue to enjoy all of these electronic resources as treasures of knowledge.