Understanding The Copyright Law In Singapore
Knowing how the Copyright Act works is important. Copyright serves to defend the way in which something is being communicated, and not the substance itself. This is also known as the idea and expression dichotomy. Examples of things that can be protected include artistic expressions such as music, art, script, computer programmes, film, photographs, choreography, engravings, sculptures, and source codes.
You can earn money through copyrights
As an intangible property, copyright can be purchased, sold, licensed, and exploited. As the copyright owner, you can prevent others from publishing, adapting, performing, reproducing, or communicating your work to the public. An infringement of copyrights happen when a substantial portion of the copyrighted work’s quality has been copied or when commercial gain is reaped. For instance, the copyrighted material can be sold or rented to others without permission from the owner. In such cases, while legal action can be taken against the party who infringed on your copyright, alternative dispute resolutions in the form of negotiation or mediation can be considered too.
By selling your copyright, you will transfer or assign ownership of that copyright to a third party. If you lease it, the other party will be able to use your copyrighted work in specific ways over a pre-determined period of time. As such, you can create revenue streams through your copyright.
Copyright is automatic.
Copyright is automatic in Singapore. This greatly differs from trade marks or patents in which registration is formalised. Once an author produces something in a tangible form, copyright protection will follow immediately. Tangible forms include pieces of writing, or a recording saved in a thumbdrive. As such, it may be useful for authors to e-mail a ‘read-only’ soft copy version of their work at the time of creation to proof that the work is created by them.
For a copyright to be valid, the original work in question must also be produced with a sufficient degree of independent effort from the author. As such, the paragraphs of writings or recording of melodies that you have been working on are all protected by copyright, even though it is not officially registered.
It is useful to note that the ‘c’ symbol representing copyright (©) is also not necessary, although preferred. Having the symbol does not give the author any additional rights at all. However, having the symbol may affect the damages claimed should there be an infringement. It is advisable for copyright owners to print their names and the year of publication together with the copyright symbol.
Knowing the above is important to prevent infringements of copyright, which can scar your brand image and reputation. In 2015, Hotel Indigo Singapore Katong, a boutique brand of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), was found to have lifted Artist Richard Lee’s illustrations without permission in their publicity materials. This created bad press for the company.
Authors do not necessarily own copyrights.
In most cases, the author of a piece of work is the owner of the copyright. However, if you are an employee working for an employer, the work created by you while being employed typically belongs to your employer. This is, unless, if you are a journalist working for a newspaper, periodical or magazine. In Singapore, your employee will have the rights to publish or reproduce your works during employment. However, as the author, you retain the right to also publish the work for other purposes, subject to the employment contract signed.
The copyright for commissioned works also typically go to the commissioning party, who is the person paying the author.
You can obtain copyright permission through various ways.
Seeking permission to use a copyrighted material goes beyond etiquette. It is imperative to note that wilful copyright infringement is considered to be a criminal offense, with a statute of limitations being six years. In 2015, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) sued two people from a socio-political website known as The Real Singapore (TRS) for reproducing at least 191 articles from SPH’s newspapers without permission in the form of 177 articles on their site from January 2011 to April 2015.
Many have the misconception that the consent to use a copyrighted work can only be done by asking the copyright owner directly. However, you can also check out the Creative Commons (CC) licenses associated with the copyrighted work that you are interested to use to see if you need explicit permission from the copyright owner.
You can also try to obtain a license via the Collective Management Organisation (CMO), which handles the licensing of rights, collection of royalties and enforcement of rights on behalf of the copyright owners.
Regardless, it is a good practice to always check a site’s terms and conditions about its contents before using any of its materials. This information can typically be located in one of the headers or at the foot of a homepage.
Technological advances today has allowed intellectual properties to be created, transmitted and accessed in a plethora of ways at unprecedented speed. Understanding copyrights is hence all the more important for creators, consumers, and businesses.