Singapore – Copyright infringement goes on

In Singapore, there is a myriad of intellectual property (IP) laws designed to protect the relevant IP with each limb of IP, having its own legislation designated for it.

Copyright is protected under the Copyright Act 2005 (Cap 63), a piece of legislation adopted along similar lines to the United States of America’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It resulted from the conclusion of talks in the Free Trade Agreement between Singapore and USA. It was lauded by the International Intellectual Property Alliance, which represents six trade associations and over 1100 companies within the US copyright industries[1].

Under the Act, the owner of a copyrighted work has the right to reproduce, publish, communicate to the public, perform or make an adaptation of the work. Any person who does the above without prior permission of the owner infringes the owner’s copyright and will be liable for civil or criminal sanctions, depending on the nature of the infringement.

Four years on, figures suggest that although the piracy situation is improving, there still remains a lot of work to be done. In the recent study by the Business Software Alliance, software piracy in Singapore fell from 43% in 2003 to 36% in 2008. However for the impeding 2007-2008, there is only a mere decrease of 1% from 37% in 2007. Losses in terms of value rose from US$159 million to US$163 million. Compared to the Asia Pacific region which increase 2% from 59% to 61% and losses of over US$15 billion as compared to over US$14 billion in 2007-2008[2], Singapore appears to be moving in the right direction.

The authorities in Singapore appear to favor a soft approach towards consumers, relying on education and media coverage to spread IP awareness and gear consumers towards respecting IP. That is not to say that IP right owners and the authorities will not take legal action against pirates and infringers.

In the last few years, there have been several cases that have made it to trial in the courts. In 2006, the Recording Industry Association of Singapore (mirror of the Recording Industry Association of America) filed police reports for 25 cases of illegal file sharing. More of note, in a separate case, two men were also imprisoned for distributing music files in an Internet chat program, marking the first time non-profit infringement was prosecuted[3].

In 2007, the Odex incident remains fresh in the mind. Odex, a Japanese animation (anime) distribution company had taken the unprecedented step of bringing legal action against consumers who have downloaded anime for their personal enjoyment. The actions taken by the company and callous remarks made by a member of the company created a huge uproar in the online community who were incensed and heavily criticized the remarks of the staff and apparent trigger-happy attitude suggested by the remarks. The situation was made worse when at the High Court, it was found that Odex was not the right party to be bringing any action as it was not an exclusive licensee of all bar one anime title that it had brought action on[4]. It has to be said that the learned Judge had made clear that protection of IP rights is of paramount importance to Singapore and copyright owners including their exclusive licensees will be afforded assistance by the Court if a clear case of infringement is shown[5]. Ultimately, it led to a wide-spread call by the online community to boycott the company’s products. It is unknown whether the boycott is currently ongoing. The baton has also since been taken up by one of the copyright owners against several downloaders. The impeding case may make it to trial sometime this year or next but when it does, it is likely to be closely followed by the industry and consumers alike.

Needless to say, clear cut pirate activities will be curbed swiftly and the pirates, dealt with heavily[6].

These cases highlight that Singapore takes IP protection seriously and the authorities will not condone blatant acts of infringement or piracy.

The Intellectual Property of Singapore (IPOS) has been heavily active in educating the public towards respecting IP, holding seminars and running numerous advertisements to that effect. A recent survey by IPOS[7] suggests that their efforts have paid off to a certain extent. Polling results of over 1000 people aged 15 years and older disclose that over 90% are aware of the importance of protecting IP. The reality of the poll however shows that the attitude of Singapore consumers towards file-sharing can be much better. While the results show that 82.4% of consumers agree that downloading from unauthorized sources is illegal, only 56.3% agree that illegal downloading is a form of theft. Similarly only 53.1% polled, agree that they will be caught.

A separate study by Nielsen[8] showed that consumers in Singapore download movies (25%) and music (33%) in the month of January. A look on Alexa shows popular file-sharing torrent sites, Baidu (18) and Mininova (64)[9], amongst others, in the top 100 visited sites in Singapore. While these statistics show that consumers in Singapore still continue to download copyrighted material, it is not conclusive to say that the soft approach favored by IPOS is wrong.

Edward Neubronner of the Motion Picture Association may have commented previously that ‘it is time to get tougher on downloaders’ but the impact of the educational ‘soft’ approach adopted by IPOS cannot be discounted. Through their efforts in raising IP awareness and promoting their Respect IP campaign, IPOS has only just begun to lay the tracks, so to speak. Much has still to be done to complement the hard work already done, in order to bring Singapore towards the standards set by other developed countries in the region such as Australia (26%), New Zealand (22%) and Japan (21%)[10].





[5] Ibid at para.38





[10] Op.cit n.2