Copyright Law in Singapore: Your Rights and What It Protects

Last updated on December 18, 2019

person stealing copyrighted work

What is Copyright?

Copyright is something we encounter often in our daily lives. The songs we listen to, the movies we watch, and this article you are reading right now are all protected by copyright. But what is copyright exactly?

Copyright is an Intellectual Property (IP) right that protects the expression of ideas (and not the idea itself). From paintings to plays, copyright protects original literary, musical, dramatic and artistic works that have been expressed and recorded in a tangible form.

Copyright does not protect inventions or a company’s brand. Those are protected by patents and trademarks respectively.

In Singapore, copyright is governed by the Copyright Act (CA).

What are the Rights of a Copyright Owner?

Copyright protects expressions of ideas by granting the copyright owner of the work a bundle of rights. This bundle of rights grants the copyright owner exclusive rights to reproduce, publish, perform, communicate and adapt his or her work.

Usually, the copyright owner is the author of the work, but this is not always the case. For example, the author may have sold his copyright to another party. More situations where the author does not hold the copyright to the work are explained below.

Nevertheless, upcoming changes to the CA will introduce a new right of attribution for authors. This is a right for authors to be acknowledged whenever their work is used. This helps authors build their reputation and incentivises the creation of new works.

Is Copyrighted Work Protected Overseas?

Copyright is territorial. Copyright arising in Singapore is valid only within her borders.

However, Singapore is a signatory to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), an international treaty that governs intellectual property rights globally. As a result, any copyright created in Singapore is also protected in countries that are signatories to TRIPS.

Do I Need to Register for Copyright Protection in Singapore?

Copyright in Singapore automatically comes into existence for works that qualify for protection (see below). There is no need to worry about registration or the paperwork associated with it. This will save authors time, effort and registration fees.

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Do I Need a Copyright Licence?

If you are an author who intends to commercialise your work 

Authors who intend to commercialise their work do not need to acquire a copyright licence or register it as there is no copyright registry in Singapore. Instead, the author is free to license his copyright to third-parties to use through licensing agreements.

Instead of licensing his copyright, the author may also choose to assign his copyright through written agreements.

Do note that you would however lose ownership of the copyright upon assigning it. In contrast, licences allow you to retain ownership while allowing another party to use the copyright.

If you are a third-party who intends to use an author’s copyrighted work 

Generally, a licence is required by the person who intends to use a work under copyright protection, if he is not the copyright owner. 

For example, if you are a video producer, you may wish to include background music created by someone else in your video. In such a case, a licence is needed from the author of the music before you can use that music in the video without infringing on the author’s copyright.

To obtain a licence, you must contact the copyright owner directly or the collecting society managing that particular work in Singapore.

Collecting societies are organisations that help copyright owners manage their IPs. For example, COMPASS Singapore manages the copyrighted works of composers and lyricists.

However, if the use of the copyrighted work is considered fair dealing, you would not require a licence. This defence of fair dealing is determined by factors such as:

  • Whether the work is being used for commercial purposes;
  • Nature of the work;
  • Amount of the work being used;
  • Effect on the value of the work; and,
  • Possibility of obtaining the work commercially within a reasonable time. (This last factor will be removed in the next revision of the CA because it creates an impression that a licence must be sought in all cases.)

Changes to the CA will introduce more exceptions where others’ copyrighted works can be used without infringing upon their copyright, or obtaining a licence from the copyright owner:

  1. When the work is being used for data analysis. The use is however limited only to the acts of copying an author’s work for the purposes of data analysis.
  2. Use by non-profit educational institutions, museums, galleries, libraries and archives. For educational institutions, the use is limited to online works that are available for free and the use must be for an educational purpose. For museums, galleries, libraries and archives, they are permitted to make copies or publicly perform audio-visual materials that are already in their permanent collection for the purpose of exhibition.

What are the Requirements for Copyright Protection in Singapore?

To qualify for copyright protection, your work must satisfy all of the following requirements:

  1. It must be a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work. The artistic quality of the work does not matter. A student’s doodles in class or a painting by a master painter both qualify for copyright protection.
    • A literary work is one that is written and contains information that can be read.
    • A dramatic work is a work capable of being performed and conveys a plot.
    • A musical work is an arrangement of musical notes.
    • Artistic works refer to a painting, sculpture, drawing, photograph, a building, or any work of artistic craftsmanship.
  2. Connected to Singapore. The CA requires the author to be a Singapore citizen or residing in Singapore, or that the work was first published in Singapore.
  3. Expressed in a tangible form. The CA requires that the work be reduced to writing or some other material form.
  4. Original. A work is considered original if it originated from the author. This is even if someone else produces a similar work independently. For example, two photographers can arrive at a similar photograph of the Singapore skyline on their own, with no knowledge of one another’s photograph. Both works can be granted copyright protection and neither would be infringing upon the other’s copyright.

How is the Owner of the Copyrighted Work Decided?

As mentioned above, the author and the copyright owner may not always be the same. Situations where copyright ownership may be vested in another party other than the author include where:

  1. The author is a journalist. The publisher that the author works for would have the right to reproduce and publish the work. All other rights would remain with the author.
  2. The work was commissioned. Currently, the copyright for certain works, such as photographs or paintings/drawings of portraits, vests in the party that commissioned the work. To improve the sustainability of the creative industry in Singapore however, the upcoming amendments intends for the copyright in any commissioner work to first vest in the author instead of the commissioner.
  3. The author created the work during the course of employment. The copyright would then be owned by the author’s employer.

Do I Need to Include the Copyright Symbol on My Work?

The use of the copyright symbol is not required. Copyright would automatically exist for your original work with or without the copyright symbol.

However, the copyright symbol may be useful in a court proceeding. Its use may prevent an alleged copyright infringer (someone allegedly using your copyrighted work without permission) from claiming ignorance of any infringement because the copyright symbol would have  notified them that the work is under copyright protection.

If the court is convinced that alleged copyright infringer knew that he was infringing on your copyright as he had seen the copyright symbol on your work, the court may grant you a higher award of damages than you would have received if you had not used the copyright symbol.

How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?

For published literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, copyright in Singapore lasts for 70 years after the author’s death.

For works published only after the author’s death, copyright currently lasts for 70 years after the work was first published. This allows for copyright protection to last indefinitely if the work remains unpublished.

However, the CA will be amended so that protection lasts no longer than 70 years after the author’s death, regardless if the work was published or unpublished.

For sound recordings, films, photographs, and performances, copyright currently lasts for 70 years from the work’s release date. However, for broadcasts, copyright lasts for 50 years from the date of broadcast.

With the upcoming changes to the CA, sound recordings, films, photographs, and performances will last for 70 years from the making of the work if unpublished, or 70 years from the date of first publication.

After the copyright expires, the work passes into public domain. This means that everyone would be free to use, adapt, or build on the work. The CA does not allow for copyright protection to be revived once it has expired.

What Happens If Someone Infringes My Copyrighted Work?

Copyright infringement happens when someone exercises the copyright owner’s bundle of rights (see above) without his consent, and there are no valid defences to infringement.

For example, someone has reproduced the copyright owner’s work without obtaining a licence to do so, and cannot rely on any of the exceptions to copyright infringement mentioned above.

The copyright owner can pursue legal action if they suspect that their copyright has been infringed upon:

  1. Civil proceedings. The copyright owner can sue for damages, or for any profits made as a result of the infringement. The copyright owner can also request the court for an order to stop the infringer from further violating the copyright.
  2. Criminal charges. If found guilty of making copies of infringing works for sale, or selling such infringing works for example, an infringer can be fined for up to S$10,000 per infringing copy up to a total of S$100,000, or up to 5 years in jail, or both.

Copyright can be described as an invisible gold. Its commercialisation potential is immense, but so are the risks accompanying it, such as piracy and infringement.

Let our IP lawyers advise you on how best to navigate the pitfalls and possibilities of copyright, such as the licensing of your copyright or the steps you should take to pursue any infringers.