Legal Tips: Starting an Online Business in Singapore
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.
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.
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.
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