Guide to Moral Rights Under Singapore’s Copyright Act
In Singapore, copyright is governed by the Copyright Act, which affords copyright owners and creators with several types of rights in relation to their literary, musical, dramatic and artistic works. This includes “moral rights”, which this article will explore in greater detail. It will cover:
- What are moral rights
- Moral rights of authors and performers in Singapore
- How to properly identify an author or performer when using their work
- How long do moral rights in a work last
- Remedies for infringement of moral rights
- Assignment and waiver of moral rights
- What happens to your moral rights if you pass away
- Whether your moral rights apply overseas
What are Moral Rights?
Moral rights are the rights given to individual creators, such as authors of literary, musical, dramatic and artistic works, as well as performers, to protect their personal connection to their works. For example, creators have the right to be credited whenever their work is used or shared by someone else. This is also known as the right to be identified.
Moral rights can be distinguished from copyright. Copyright grants a copyright owner a bundle of exclusive rights to reproduce, publish, perform, communicate and adapt his or her work, whereas moral rights refer to the need to give credit to the individual creator. It is possible to have a situation where a creator, who originally owned the copyright in his/her work, still possesses moral rights to the work despite having transferred the copyright in the work to another party.
There could also be instances where a person commits copyright infringement without infringing the moral rights of the creator. For example, even though person X credited the photographer of a photograph that X had published online, X may still have infringed on the photographer’s copyright if he published the photograph without first getting the photographer’s permission.
Moral rights of Authors and Performers in Singapore
Under the Copyright Act, individual creators as well as performers enjoy the following moral rights:
Right to be identified
Authors and performers also have the right to be properly acknowledged for their literary, dramatic, musical, artistic works and/or performances. (Here, an “author” refers to a person who has created a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, rather than a person who has written a book. Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works are also collectively known as “authorial works”.)
The table below sets out when an author and/or performer must be identified for his/her work.
|When the creator must be identified|
|Authors||When his/her dramatic or literary work is:
When his/her musical work or literary work consisting of words intended to be sung or spoken with music is:
When his/her artistic work is:
How to properly identify an author or performer when using their work
Authors and performers should be identified by either his/her true name, pseudonym or stage name (as he/she wishes), or any reasonable form of identification if it is unknown how the performer wishes to be acknowledged.
For joint authors and group performers, identifying their group name would suffice.
Attribution must be done in a clear and reasonably prominent manner. This means that identification must be noticeable. In the case where copies have been made of the work (including copies of recordings of a performance), the attribution should appear in or on each copy of the work.
Exceptions to the right to be identified
There are certain circumstances where creators need not be credited when their works are being used. These include but are not limited to:
- When the works are used for judicial proceedings;
- When the works are used for news reporting;
- When the works appear in a video or photo but is not the focus of the recording; and
- When it is not possible to ascertain the creators’ identities.
Right against false identification
The author of an authorial work has the right to not have any other person falsely identified as the author of the work. A person (X) who attributes a work to any other person (Y) other than the author, would infringe the author’s moral right against false identification.
To establish an infringement of an author’s right against false identification, two specific elements must be shown:
- X inserts Y’s name in, or on, a work; and
- The way Y’s name is being inserted or reflected implies that Y is the author of that work, or that Y had adapted that work.
For example, if X affixes Y’s name (and not the author’s name) on the work or a copy of a poem, and Y’s name appears right below the poem, X’s actions could falsely imply that Y had penned the poem. If so, X will have infringed the author’s moral right against false identification.
Right not to be falsely identified as author of copy of artistic work
An author of an artistic work also has the right to not be falsely represented as the author of a copy of the work that was not made by him/her.
For infringement to be found, two elements must be established:
- A person must have published, sold, or distributed a copy of a work as being made by the author; and
- Such a person knew that the copy was not made by the author.
For instance, if X sells a copy of an artistic work identifying Q as the author, but X knows that Q is not actually the author of the work, X would have infringed Q’s right to not be falsely identified as the author of a copy of the artistic work.
Right not to have altered copy represented as unaltered
There may be instances where an author’s piece of work is altered, such as when a line in the author’s script has been modified. If this altered work is shared, the author has the moral right to not have such work represented as being unaltered.
There are three elements in establishing an infringement of the right not to have an altered copy represented as unaltered:
- A person must have published, sold, or distributed a copy of a work as being unaltered;
- Such a person knew that the copy is an altered copy; and
- The person also knew that the alteration was not made by the author.
How Long Do Moral Rights in a Work Last?
For authorial works, moral rights apply only where copyright subsists in the work, and only for the period of time during which copyright subsists. In Singapore, copyright for literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works (whether they are published or not) generally lasts for 70 years after the author’s death.
For performances, moral rights apply only to a protected performance for the period of time when it is protected. Protection for a protected performance lasts until 70 years after the performance is given.
Remedies for Infringement of Moral Rights
If your moral rights have been infringed upon, you can ask the alleged infringing party to credit you or take down their use of the work.
If that party refuses to comply, you may take legal action and bring the matter to court. Where it is established that there was indeed an infringement of moral rights, the court may:
- Order an injunction, i.e to order the infringing party to refrain from specified acts, and/or
- Award monetary damages to you if you are able to show a loss in potential income as a result of the infringement.
Note that any legal action must be brought within 6 years from the alleged moral rights infringement.
That said, it is always prudent to consider the practicalities of bringing a matter relating to infringement of moral rights to court. After all, it may not be easy or realistic to monitor how and/or where your work is being used online.
Even if you do identify a potential moral right infringement, you may realise through a cost-benefit assessment that it may not be practical to hunt the infringer down. Considering the amount of money and time you will need to spend to establish your case in court, it might not be worth pursuing the matter.
Assignment and Waiver of Moral Rights
If you are wondering if you, as a creator, can transfer your moral rights to another party, the answer is no. The Copyright Act makes clear that a creator cannot assign their moral rights to someone else, as these rights are personal to you as an author.
Note, however, that it is possible for you to waive or “give up” your moral rights in two ways. First, you can give consent to a party to use your works without crediting or attributing the work to you. Such consent need not be in writing. Another way to waive your moral rights is to formally waive your moral rights in writing with your signature.
What Happens to Your Moral Rights If You Pass Away?
If you pass away, your moral rights do not cease but are transferred to your personal legal representative. In the event of any infringement of your moral rights, your personal legal representative may then choose to bring an action to enforce them. If he/she succeeds in establishing infringement and monetary damages are awarded, this sum will go to your estate.
Note that if you had waived your moral rights in one of the two ways mentioned above, the waiver remains valid and binding even after you pass away.
Do Your Moral Rights Apply Overseas?
Moral rights under the Copyright Act do not apply overseas. Thus, if your work is used outside Singapore in a way that infringes upon your moral rights, you do not have a right to seek remedies for such infringement.
For example, if somebody exhibits your work publicly in another country without crediting you, you will be unable to seek remedies for the infringement of your moral right to be identified.
Creators certainly deserve to have their works properly used, and to also be credited for their work. The recognition of the wide scope of moral rights under the Copyright Act empowers creators to protect their works, preventing situations where businesses profit from such work without giving due recognition to the creators behind them.
If you are a creator and believe that your moral rights have been infringed upon in Singapore, do consider approaching a copyright infringement lawyer who will be able to provide specialised advice to guide you in securing the appropriate remedies.
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