Singapore Copyright Infringement – Karaoke operators to pay copyright fees

Recently, Karaoke operators in Singapore were confused when the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (COMPASS) informed them that they violated copyright laws, as they did not have legal permission to copy the music and lyrics of composers into their karaoke-on-demand (KOD) systems. KOD systems are generally automated databases of digitized karaoke and music videos, which allow patrons to request for songs without the need for a manual switching of laser discs or other physical media. Karaoke with video lyrics display capabilities is called KTV. COMPASS is asking the KTV operators to pay for copyrights of the music and lyrics used, which might be charged at $3 per song, despite their payment of $6,800 to $30,000 annual licence fees per operator to InnoForm Entertainment Pte Ltd (Innoform) for music use. The deadline to pay any outstanding copyright fees is set to be on October 1 this year. This extra payment imposed by COMPASS made the Karaoke business owners upset.

What most of these owners do not know is that there are three Copyright Intellectual Property Associations involved in their operation, i.e. InnoForm, Recording Industry Performance Singapore Pte Ltd (RIPS), and COMPASS, and there are four rights that they need to obtain before operating.

These three organizations have distinct functions as follows:

InnoForm Entertainment Pte Ltd

Innoform is a private organization that administers reproduction rights of karaoke and music videos on behalf of major record companies, i.e. Rock Records, Universal Music, Warner Music, Sony BMG Music, HIM International, Forward Music, Ocean Butterflies, Asia Muse Entertainment, and EMI. It grants a licence that is limited to the visuals of the music video and does not include lyrics.

Recording Industry Performance Singapore Pte Ltd

RIPS is a collective licensing body that administers public performance rights of karaoke and music videos owned and controlled by a number of record companies to the one who wish to use these videos to provide karaoke entertainment, music video featured entertainment or music video background entertainment to the public or a section of the public, e.g. bars, pubs, lounges, discotheques, cafes, restaurants, retail shops, department stores, community centers, cruise ships, health and fitness centers, hotels and private clubs, etc.

Composers and Authors Society of Singapore Ltd

COMPASS deals specifically with music copyrights and usage of musical works. It represents the copyright interest of composers, authors and publishers of musical works and their lyrics. This organization is acting on behalf of AsiaMuse Entertainment, EMI Music, Forward Music, HIM Music, Ocean Butterflies Music, Rock Records, Sony BMG Entertainment Music, Universal Music, Warner Music, Suwah Enterprise, and Life Record Industries.

For the sake of clarity, the four music rights that KTV operators need to buy are enumerated hereunder:

1. Right to copy the video element of the song (c/o Innoform)

2. Right to do a public performance involving the video element of the song (c/o RIPS)

3. Right to copy the music and lyrics of the song (c/o COMPASS)

4. Right to do a public performance involving the music and lyrics of the song (c/o COMPASS)

The third one is what COMPASS is currently trying to collect on behalf of the composers.

The public may ask: what if the owners don’t pay the licence fee imposed by COMPASS? It should be noted that any person or establishment who does not have a licence would be committing an offence under The Copyright Act of Singapore 1987. Section 26(1)(a) of the Copyright Act clearly states that the owner of the work is given an exclusive right to reproduce the work in a material form and perform the work in public. Moreover, Section 31 of the said Act provides that the copyright in a literary work (including song lyrics) or musical work (including melody) is infringed by a person who, not being the owner of the copyright, and without the licence of the owner of the copyright, does in Singapore, or authorizes the doing in Singapore of, any act comprised in the copyright. Offenders are liable to civil and/or criminal proceedings. In civil lawsuits, remedies for copyright owners comprise injunctions, damages and account of profit. The Court may also order additional damages to be paid by the infringing party to the copyright owner. An award of statutory damages may be ordered by the Court against the infringing party without the need for the copyright owner to prove the loss he has suffered as a result of the infringement, subject to a per-work ceiling of S$10000 and to an aggregate ceiling of S$200000 for a particular action. For the criminal offence under Section 136 of the Copyright Act, the infringer is punishable by a fine not exceeding S$20,000 and/or imprisonment of up to six months. Offenders are liable to civil and/or criminal proceedings, which may lead to injunctions, damages, fines and imprisonment.

The Karaoke owners should understand that the Law is not discriminating against their music businesses. The main purpose of the Copyright Law is to protect someone else’s work so that no one, specifically those profit-oriented businesses, should exploit the said work or piece without due compensation to the composer. In this way, music writers who depend on royalties for their livelihood will be able to create music in a more conducive environment.