Singapore’s biggest copyright reform in 30 years

Author:Gavin Foo - Edmund Chew
Position:Senior Legal Counsel - Legal Counsel, Intellectual Property Office of Singapore

Copyright in the 21st century is much like the novelist Julian Barnes described art in The Noise of Time (2016):

“Art belongs to everybody and nobody. Art belongs to all time and no time. Art belongs to those who create it and those who savour it. Art no more belongs to the People and the Party, than it once belonged to the aristocracy and the patron. Art is the whisper of history, heard above the noise of time. Art does not exist for art’s sake: it exists for people’s sake. But which people, and who defines them?”

For whom does copyright exist? This question underlies virtually all law reform efforts in the field. In today’s complex normative landscape, where the only constant is technological and market change, policymakers are challenged to find solutions that fairly accommodate the concerns of an increasingly varied group of stakeholders who have yet more varied interests and perspectives. Prior to the enactment of the Singapore Copyright Act in 1987, the Parliamentary Select Committee considered 34 written representations on the draft Bill. Now, as Singapore undergoes the most comprehensive review of its copyright regime in 30 years, the total number of submissions has increased more than tenfold. Before arriving at the Singapore Government’s latest recommendations on 16 issues affecting copyright in the digital age, the Ministry of Law and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) considered 94 formal written submissions and 283 online feedback forms. This huge increase in feedback reflects the growing complexity of the copyright landscape in the digital age.

The recently published Singapore Copyright Review Report outlines these recommendations, including proposed changes to the Copyright Act. The changes are wide-ranging. They cover new rights, new exceptions, new enforcement mechanisms, and a proposed new government-administered licensing framework for collective management. Myriad stakeholders will benefit as a result – individual authors, businesses, employers, users, intermediaries, students, researchers, and more; the reforms will benefit each of them to varying degrees. For one group of stakeholders in particular – members of the public – the changes will improve their everyday dealings with copyright. These stakeholders create, access, consume, and distribute content relentlessly, at work and at play, privately and publicly, and form the bedrock of any copyright system.

A more accessible copyright law for everyone

For a start, the reforms will...

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