For information
on 7 January 1999

Legislative Council Panel on Security
Licensing of Karaoke Establishments


This paper informs Members of the progress of the proposed licensing system for karaoke establishments.


2. Members were last informed in November 1997 at a joint meeting of the Provisional Legislative Council (PLC) Panel on Security and the PLC Panel on Broadcasting, Culture and Sport of the proposed licensing scheme for karaoke establishments and of the Administration's plan to carry out a three-month public consultation on the proposal.

3. Having regard to the comments made by Members during the joint meeting in November 1997, we have modified our proposal regarding exemptions for "bona fide" restaurants and provision of emergency exit doors as alternative means of escape for karaoke rooms. In our revised proposal as set out in the consultation paper, "bona fide" restaurants(i.e. restaurants serving food and drinks, not providing karaoke activities as their main business),with aggregate areas of all karaoke rooms not exceeding 30% of the seating area and the number of karaoke rooms not exceeding the total seating area divided by 100 sq. m., will be exempted from the proposed licensing requirements for karaoke establishments. The requirement for emergency exit doors as an alternative means of escape for karaoke rooms is also waived if the exit corridors are provided with automatic sprinkler installations.

Public Consultation

4. A three-month public consultation was conducted from February to May 1998. A total of 17 written submissions were received. The karaoke trade and the general public were generally supportive of our objective to improve safety of karaoke establishments. Some also suggested that the fire safety management of karaoke establishments should be improved. The trade raised concern about the financial implications in complying with the building or structural safety requirements. A summary of the comments received is at Appendix A.

5. We consulted the Select Committees of the Provisional Urban Council and Provisional Regional Council on 2 and 3 December 1998 respectively. The two Provisional Municipal Councils are generally supportive of the proposed licensing scheme, but noted the concerns expressed by the karaoke trade, particularly on the proposed building safety requirements. We have since public consultation, continued discussions with the karaoke trade with a view to refining the detailed upgrading requirements to address their concerns while maintaining our objective to improve fire safety in karaoke establishments.

The Proposed Licensing Scheme

6. Pursuant to ongoing discussions with the karaoke trade, we have modified the safety requirements with respect to the corridor width of karaoke establishments, the scope of application and the waiving of the requirement for alternative exit arrangements for karaoke rooms. On fire safety, two additional requirements on fire safety video and annual fire safety training for karaoke employees have been added. Details of the revised scheme are explained in paragraphs 7 to 12.

Scope of Application

7. It is proposed that all establishments providing karaoke facilities to which the general public is admitted, with or without payment of a charge, should be brought under the control of a licensing scheme administered by a licensing authority, i.e. karaoke establishments will be required to obtain a specific licence for their operations. Those establishments operating in premises holding restaurant licences will need to obtain written permission endorsed on the restaurant licence. However, bona fide restaurants will be exempted from the licensing scheme or the requirement for separate endorsement on the restaurant licences. Clubs, hotels and guesthouses operating karaoke activities with a Certificate of Compliance under the Clubs (Safety of Premises) Ordinance or a licence under the Hotel and Guesthouse Accommodation Ordinance will also be required to meet the requisite safety standards.

The Licensing Requirements

8. The licensing scheme will cover fire safety, building safety, public safety and health requirements. The licensing authority will require karaoke establishments set up after the implementation of the licensing scheme to comply with the new requirements. As for existing karaoke establishments, the authority will require them to meet the stipulated requirements in phases to lessen the impact. Details of the proposed fire safety, building safety and health requirements will be laid down in regulations or Code of Practice to be made by the licensing authority. An outline of the requirements is provided at Appendix B. Safety requirements have been modified having regard to the views expressed by the karaoke trade -

  1. in view of the trade's concern, we have reconsidered the requirement on the width of corridors for existing karaoke establishments. We will consider exempting existing karaoke establishments with a minimum corridor width of 1.05 m. from the requirement of further widening their corridors to 1.2 m to meet the new standards, if such establishments have already installed basic fire safety measures which have been approved by the authorities;

  2. the requirement for emergency exit doors as an alternative means of escape for karaoke rooms is also waived if the exit corridors of the karaoke establishments are provided with automatic sprinkler installations; and

  3. two additional requirements on the showing of a fire safety video before the starting of karaoke activities and for karaoke employees to attend annual fire safety training are added to enhance the fire safety knowledge and alertness of the karaokes' patrons and employees respectively.
9. As regards public safety requirements, the Police will be consulted on the suitability of the applicant and the karaoke premises in respect of each and every licence application, unless they are already covered by a liquor licence whereby the Police would have been consulted prior to issue or renewal of the licence.

Enforcement and penalties

10. The licensing authority, Director of Urban Services, Director of Regional Services, Director of Fire Services, Director of Buildings, Commissioner of Police and Director of Home Affairs will be given the power of entry to inspect the karaoke rooms in different types of premises and enforce the legislation.

11. Penalties will be imposed for premises operating karaoke activities without a licence or permission. The licensing authority may also apply to the court for a Prohibition Order to prohibit the use of any premises as a karaoke establishment, and a Closure Order to close any karaoke establishment where a Prohibition Order is not complied with.

Transitional period

12. A transitional licence or permission providing for an exemption period of 12 months may be granted to the operators of existing karaoke establishments to allow time for them to carry out the necessary upgrading works, and apply for a requisite licence or written permission. After 12 months, if necessary, the licensing authority may consider granting a further transitional licence or permission of up to 12 months to the karaoke operator depending on individual merits.

Legislative process

13. We will need a new piece of legislation to provide for the licensing scheme. We aim to introduce the Bill into the Legislative Council within the current legislative session.

Security Bureau
December 1998

Appendix A

Summary of Comments received during
Public Consultation on Proposals on Licensing of Karaoke Establishments

(A) Professional groups/political parties/other interested organisations
  • Support the proposed licensing control

  • There should be a clear statement of the policy objectives of the proposed licensing control;

  • A provisional licensing system similar to that under general restaurant licensing should be put in place;

  • Consideration should be given to self-certification (or certification by APs and Fire Services Installations contractors) leaving the licensing authority to focus on checking and prosecution of irregularities;

  • Karaoke establishment inside a purpose-built hotel building should be exempt as it formed an integral part of the safety requirements stipulated under the stringent Hotel license;

  • The law should spell out which authority would make the final decision to avoid confusion of enforcement and different interpretation of the same requirement by different licensing authorities;

  • Karaoke licensing should only be extended to the establishments operating inside multi-purpose commercial buildings which were totally different from that of a purpose built hotel licensed under the Hotel & Guesthouse Accommodation Ordinance with a 24-hour professional management team.

  • Building Safety Requirements

    Structural alterations such as enlarging the width of internal corridors and rejecting dead end situations were not supported by scientific researches and were not necessary.

  • Co-ordination between government departments

    Relevant government departments should work out a comprehensive and yet simple procedure if karaoke licensing was implemented. Efficient methods should be adopted to handle the applications and a provisional karaoke licensing system should be set up.

  • In compliance with the licensing requirements, many karaoke establishments would be forced to close their business and create unemployment.

  • Regarding the 1.2m width requirement for corridors and exit routes, there should be separate treatment for existing karaoke operators and new comers. The new requirement should only be applicable to new comers.

  • Furniture such as doors, sofas, tables and chair, etc should be made of fire-resistant materials and there should be specified standards for such materials;

  • A central licensing department should be set up as a long-term measure to simplify the licensing process.

  • All licensed restaurants with karaoke facilities, which were built according to the required fire, building and health standards, should be exempted from the proposed licensing control.

  • Fire doors should include some form of security, preferably in the form of an alarm system, to prevent the doors from being used for purposes other than emergency evacuation. Doors should be so designed that they cannot be chained or secured in an unorthodox manner;

  • Prior to the use of the karaoke system, customers should be shown a short video identifying evacuation routes in the karaoke premises and the safety equipment relevant to the establishment, which was mandatory in karaoke lounges in Taiwan and become popular in hotels in North America;

  • A system of more covert monitoring and reporting should be put in place to check adherence of the licensing conditions.

  • Karaoke establishments situated inside commercial cum domestic buildings should not be within 50m of the main entrance of the building, and no karaoke establishments should be allowed in such buildings if the commercial portion only consisted of no more than 3 floors;

  • The proposed 12-month transitional period for existing karaoke operators was too long.
(B) Karaoke Operators/Karaoke Concern Groups
  • The proposed building safety requirements were unfair to karaoke establishments as their existing facilities were built up to the present safety standards. To conform to the new requirements would eventually lead to mass closure and unemployment problems.

  • There was an overriding need for good fire safety management, especially training of personnel. Karaoke establishments would upgrade management by instructing all staff to explain to the customers the exit routes, the nearest safe route to take shelter before entertainment began;

  • FSD's proposed requirements seemed reasonable, but each establishment should be examined on a case-by-case basis.

  • On means of escape, it was essential that the customers in the establishment could reach a place of safety before a fire had grown to such a size as to cause a threat. Overcrowding had to be avoided, escape routes had to be wide enough, dead-end situations were not encouraged but might be tolerated in some situations if travel distances were not too great, each premises should ideally have two exits, and each case had to be considered on case-by-case basis.

  • The proposal that the walls of karaoke rooms should have at least one hour fire resistance period was difficult to justify. If early detection could be assured and the staff were suitably trained, then only a short period of fire resistance was necessary.

  • It would be advisable to develop a different approach to the provision of fire safety by relying on good fire safety management and early detection of fire. Use of wall lining materials of low combustibility and controlling the types of furniture and fabrics that were used within the premises could also reduce the rate of fire spread in case of arson attack.

  • Only establishments with the following features should be considered for control:

    • An area over 130 sq. m.;

    • Sits over 30 customers;

    • Partitioned cubicles (fixed only and not temporary or movable) over 5 in number and

    • Liquor is served.

  • To split licensing authorities into UC/RC and HAD was not favoured. A unique, simple and independent licensing authority should be set up, which should publish its reports and decisions regularly;

  • There should be a provisional karaoke licensing system similar to that for restaurants;

  • There should be an appeal system to the Administrative Appeal Board or the Municipal Services Appeal board if the government authorised PUC/PRC to handle karaoke licence applications. The appeal should go to an independent body appointed by the government;

  • The health requirements and fire services requirements should be more detailed and specific. The public should know in advance the standard or specification. Some equipment might not be easily obtained in the market;

  • Strongly objected to the suggestions made by Buildings Department. There were local and overseas expert opinions that compartment in a karaoke was a hindrance to the spread of fire and smoke, that the best way to deal with arson fire was good fire management and not by installing new measures; that the proposed 1.2m wide internal corridor was not reasonable; that the upgrading of internal corridor with fire resistance to an hour was not necessary; that dead-end situation, though undesirable, would not create unacceptable risk to warrant total prohibition; that the method of assessment of population was not reasonable by including area of corridors;

  • The Concern Group was seeking local and overseas expert opinions but the reports would not be available until completion of scientific research. The government should wait for the research reports before announcing the new legislation, or to amend the new legislation if they were subsequently found to be inconsistent with the finding of the world class fire experts;

  • The government's measure against those karaoke establishments who had never applied for any licence or were simply evading the law was supported. Any new measure to eliminate triad interference in karaoke business was also supported;
(C) Individuals/Academics
  • Fully agreed with a strict licensing control of karaoke establishments as outlined in the consultation paper;

  • Penalty should be clearly stated. Legislation with effective enforcement was required.

  • New licensing control should be made known to all karaoke establishment owners.

  • There should be proper international signage for karaoke establishments.

  • Regarding accidental fire, a karaoke establishment should be of the same fire safety level as other places accessible to general public, such as an ordinary restaurant or a library.

  • The licensing control should include establishments operating as or under the name of music clubs, music studios etc., and put them under the definition of "karaoke" and "karaoke establishments";

  • The Working Group had not considered the problem of public nuisance, particularly noise pollution and vibration, caused by karaoke establishments. They should comply with noise standard before a licence was issued.
Appendix B

Details of the proposed Fire Safety, Building Safety and Health Requirements for Karaoke Establishments

(A) Fire Safety Requirements

Depending on the layout of the premises, the following fire safety requirements will be imposed where appropriate -

  1. karaoke establishments shall not be located on level 4 of basement or below or in any industrial buildings;

  2. provision of fire service installations and equipment (e.g. automatic sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, etc.);

  3. general fire safety requirements for ventilation system including automatic cut-off devices;

  4. alarm bells at individual cubicles;

  5. audio-visual advisory system which can interrupt the musical system in case of alarm;

  6. low level directional signs capable of maintaining indication of exit direction in darkness;

  7. exit routes indication plans for each individual cubicle.

  8. a fire safety video should be shown to the customers each time before the music videos started; and

  9. employees should have received fire safety training conducted by the Fire Services Department. Such training should be conducted at least once in every twelve month.
(B) Building Safety Requirements

Essential buildings safety requirements will include -

  1. assessment of means of escape provisions;

  2. minimum width of internal corridor to be provided in new establishments;

  3. direct distance and travel distance to staircases to be restricted;

  4. fire resisting separation between cubicles and internal corridors to be provided;

  5. premises to be structurally suitable; and

  6. general building fire safety requirements concerning means of escape, means of access for fire fighting and rescue and fire resisting construction.
(C) Health Requirements

The following health requirements will be imposed on karaoke establishments -

  1. provision of toilet and ablution facilities;

  2. adequacy of fresh air supply to patrons; and

  3. fitting-out of ventilation system on the premises.