The Ministry of Law (“MinLaw”) and The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (“IPOS”) have recently published the Singapore Copyright Review Report 2019 to review the existing copyright system and set out their response to the public consultations that they had conducted in 2016 and 2017. The Report outlines their proposed amendments to the Copyright Act (Cap 63, 2006 Rev Ed) (the “Act”) in Singapore, targeting areas which are not clear, reasonable or efficient.
The dynamism of technological advancement simply means that our laws must adapt to address new issues which arise as our country develops. The proposed amendments include changes to the ownership of the rights for commissioned works (Section 30(4) to (6), 97(3) and 98(3) of the Act), the introduction of a right of attribution, new exceptions to copyright infringement, new laws in regards to the use of illicit set-top boxes, and a new class-licensing scheme.
Firstly, regarding commissioned works under Section 30(3) of the Act, creators will now automatically own the copyright of their commissioned works instead of the commissioning party, unless the parties agree otherwise in writing. As a result, individual freelancers and creators from Small and Medium Enterprises stand to benefit as they would not only be properly credited for their works, but they would also have greater bargaining power and be in a better position to negotiate the terms with their clients.
Let us now consider the vesting of copyright ownership with creators of material subject to copyright. This encourages them to think carefully about the rights that are being assigned and for what purpose, and to think of new means to commercialise their work. Regardless of who owns the copyright, creators are still obliged to observe other laws such as the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA). The owner of the personal data in a work may continue to control the use and disclosure of the personal data in question, regardless of who owns the copyright.
Secondly, several changes had been proposed since existing legislation does not provide for giving recognition to the creator of a work. At present, the Act only provides creators with the statutory right to prevent false attribution under Section 188 of the Act. Should the proposed changes be implemented, creators will be entitled to new rights of attribution, even after selling their copyright to their work.
Moreover, the new right will be aligned with international norms, such as Sections 79(2) of the United Kingdom’s Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and Section 45(a) of Israel’s Copyright Act 2007. For example, for works of a particular nature, such as computer programmes, where there are often a large number of programmers involved and it would be impractical to mandate attribution, attribution will not need to be made. The new right will only last for the duration of copyright protection.
Purpose-based Exceptions to Copyright Infringement
A further proposed amendment is in relation to the exceptions to copyright infringement. These exceptions would apply to materials of important public interest. Specified in the Report are situations where copyright works are used for text and data mining, and for the purpose of education in non-profit schools. The new amendments will add on to the existing fair dealing exceptions for the purposes of research and study, criticism and review and for the reporting current events (Sections 35 to 37).
With respect to the exception for text and data mining activities, analogous to the fair dealing exception for the purpose of research and study, the application of this exception will not be limited to non-commercial activities. In the Report, this generous exception has been justified with MinLaw’s and IPOS’ aim to promote the application of data analytics and big data across industries, unlock new business opportunities and speed up processes to reduce costs for all. MinLaw and IPOS have also rejected suggestions from their public consultations for a statutory licensing scheme as a solution to facilitating educational uses in non-profit schools, as such a scheme would be too cumbersome in the context of an online environment.
Media Streaming Boxes/ Grey Boxes/ Illicit Streaming Devices
The last proposal worth mentioning in this article relates to the imposition of civil and criminal liability on individuals who wilfully distribute or sell a product that can be used to access pirated audio-visual content, if the product is designed for such access or advertised as such. Additionally, the sale of a generic device with add-on services, such as supplying website links or subscription services to pirated content will also be deemed illegal. The amendments will complement the existing mechanism for the blocking of flagrantly infringing online locations, which rights-holders can also utilise against the unauthorised sources of the content. They will also complement and clarify the prohibitions under Sections 104 and 105 of the Act, that tend to be used in dealings with infringing articles other than works (i.e. audio-visual items such as sound recordings, cinematographic films, sound broadcasts, television broadcasts and cable programmes). The retailer should have some degree of knowledge that the device in question can, and very likely will be used to access content from a source not authorised by the rights-holder, to be liable. The legality of media streaming boxes used to be seen as a grey and contentious area, but the proposed amendments clarify MinLaw and IPOS’ position and the actions that may be taken against retailers of such set-top boxes.
To conclude, the proposed amendments to the Copyright Act are formulated to secure and balance the new technological environment with the legislative system especially in certain areas not yet anticipated by the Act. The proposed amendments include the changes to default copyright ownership in commissioned works, attribution rights, new exceptions to copyright infringement, media streaming boxes, and new class licensing scheme.
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