Legal Tips: Starting an Online Business in Singapore

Last updated on October 4, 2018

Rental and manpower costs comprise the biggest obstacles for budding entrepreneurs. Online businesses provide a much cheaper platform for business owners to reach consumers and market their products. The following article briefly describes the various legal considerations a business owner must bear in mind over the course of operating an online business.


Copyright law is especially pertinent for content generation businesses, which include food and travel review sites. Copyright encompasses most forms of expression such as text, photographs, and videos. Copyright arises as soon as the work is created – registration is unnecessary and the copyright owner enjoys copyright protection without the need for additional formalities. The use of the © symbol is largely cosmetic.

Copyright is essentially a negative right against other persons from copying or reproducing your work. Copyright only protects expressions. There is no copyright in ideas, information, principles and facts as such.

Generally, the copyright owner is the creator of the work, unless the work was created by an employee, in which case copyright vests in the employer. See our other article for more information on copyright law in Singapore.


A disclaimer policy or statement excludes liability, enabling the online business to disclaim legal responsibility for losses caused to the user. However, disclaimers remain subject to law, such as the Unfair Contract Terms Act, which restricts the use of disclaimers in certain circumstances.

An online business can use disclaimers to distance itself from user feedback or reviews which may contain defamatory or inaccurate statements. Disclaimers can also be used to disclaim trademark ownership when trademarks of third party entities are displayed on the website. Where advertising or links of third party services is hosted on the website, the website owner can use disclaimers to disclaim liability for the wrongdoings of the third party service provider.

Terms of Service or Use

Terms of service or use are contracts entered into between the user and the website owner or operator. These terms invariably stipulate that use of the particular website constitutes acceptance of the terms of service or use.

These terms may comprise a number of matters, such as account password and cookies policy, privacy policy, user conduct and banning policy, indemnities and disclaimers of warranties, limitation of liability, and intellectual property rights.

Most users do not bother to read the terms of service. In any case, many free resources are available on the web to help you craft the terms of service for your website.

Privacy Policy / Data Protection Policy

A privacy policy is usually contained within the terms of service. The privacy policy notifies the user about the data that would be collected from the user, and the subsequent usages of this collected data. With the advent of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), the privacy policy of an online business must necessarily comply with the 9 main PDPA obligations.

For more information, see our article on drafting a privacy policy in Singapore.

Personal Data Protection Act

The PDPA establishes a data protection law that comprises various rules governing the collection, use, disclosure and care of personal data. For a comprehensive overview of the requirements of the PDPA, please see our essential PDPA compliance guide.

Email and Phone Marketing

All electronic messages, including marketing emails, must be labelled with the <ADV> tag and contain unsubscribe functions enabling the recipient to unsubscribe. See our other article for more information on your business’ legal obligations when sending email newsletters.

The Do Not Call Registry allows individuals to register their Singapore telephone numbers to opt out of receiving marketing phone calls, mobile text messages such as SMS or MMS, and faxes from organisations. Businesses which transgress this restriction will be subject to sanction.


Most crowdfunding platforms in Singapore prohibit equity-based crowdfunding, whereby the fund recipient promises or transfers equity (shares) in exchange for donations. This is because equity crowdfunding may constitute a securities offer and violate the requirements of the Securities and Futures Act. For more information, refer to our article on crowdfunding and crowdlending in Singapore.

Getting Started
  1. How to Choose an ACRA-Approved Name for Your Business
  2. Company Seals vs Rubber Stamps in Singapore: When to Use What
  3. 8 Tips on Choosing the Best Virtual Office in Singapore for Your Business
  4. How to Open a Corporate Bank Account in Singapore
  5. How to Decide and Change Your Financial Year End (FYE) in Singapore
  6. 7 Start-Up Government Grants in Singapore (and How to Apply)
Incorporation and Formation
  1. Incorporation: How to Register a Company in Singapore
  2. Guide to Registering a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) in Singapore
  3. Why and How to Set Up a Subsidiary in Singapore (with FAQs)
  4. Setting Up a Company Limited by Guarantee in Singapore
  5. Why and How to Set Up a Branch Office in Singapore (with FAQs)
  6. Starting an Exempt Private Company in Singapore: Benefits and Process
  7. Offshore Company: What is It & How to Set Up One in Singapore
  8. Trading Company in Singapore: Why and How to Set Up One
  9. Special Purpose Vehicle: Do Singapore Start-Ups Need One?
  10. Shelf Company: What It Is and How to Buy One in Singapore
  11. Registration and Compliance Fees for Singapore Companies
  12. Guide to Limited Liability Companies in Singapore
  13. Registering a Business in Singapore: Do I Need to and How?
  14. Forming a Sole Proprietorship in Singapore
  15. Forming a Partnership in Singapore
Setting Up Other Business Structures
  1. Deciding Your Business Structure: A Sole Proprietorship, Partnership or a Company?
  2. Why and How to Convert Your Singapore Sole Proprietorship into a Pte Ltd Company
Setting up a Business for Foreigners and Foreign Companies
  1. Redomiciliation: Why and How to Convert Your Foreign Company into a Singapore-Registered Company
  2. Singapore Representative Office: How Can a Foreign Company Set Up?
  3. Singapore Entrepreneur Pass: Who is It For? How Do I Obtain One?
  4. How Can Foreigners Set Up Businesses in Singapore?
  5. Foreign Companies Setting up in Singapore
Applying for Business Licences
  1. Legal Checklist for Setting Up a Restaurant in Singapore
  2. How Businesses Can Import Food into Singapore
  3. How to Apply for Halal Certification for Your Singapore Restaurant
  4. How to Apply for a Liquor Licence to Sell Alcohol in Singapore
  5. Applying for a Public Entertainment Licence: An Essential Guide
  6. Payment Services Act Licensing Guide for Fintech Businesses
  7. Do You Need a Licence to Sell Home Bakes in Singapore?
  8. Want to Busk in Singapore? Here's How to Get Your Busking Licence
Legal Documents
  1. Guide to Writing Website Terms and Conditions in Singapore
  2. Do You Need a Partnership Agreement When Setting Up?
  3. Do You Need a Shareholder Agreement When Setting Up?
Office Rental
  1. How to Resolve Commercial Lease Disputes in Singapore
  2. Moving to a New Office: A Legal Checklist for Singapore Businesses
  3. How to Change the Registered Address of a Singapore Company
  4. Guide to Common Commercial Lease Terms in Singapore
Industry Tips
  1. Legal Tips: Starting an Online Business in Singapore