Proposed Update To Singapore's Copyright Laws Surprisingly Sensible

from the EU-should-look-and-learn dept

Techdirt writes plenty about copyright in the US and EU, and any changes to the respective legislative landscapes. But it’s important to remember that many other countries around the world are also trying to deal with the tension between copyright’s basic aim to prevent copying, and the Internet’s underlying technology that facilitates it. Recently, we covered the copyright reform process in South Africa, where some surprisingly good things have been happening. Now it seems that Singapore may bring in a number of positive changes to its copyright legislation. One of the reasons for that is the very thorough consultative process that was undertaken, explained here by Singapore’s Ministry of Law:

The proposed changes are made, following an extensive three-year review and two rounds of public consultations conducted from August to November 2016 and May to June 2017 respectively. Three public Town Halls and ten engagement sessions with various stakeholder groups, including consumer, industry and trade associations, businesses, intellectual property practitioners and academics were held. Close to 100 formal submissions and more than 280 online feedback forms were received.

The full 70-page report (pdf) spells out the questions asked during that review, the answers received, and the government’s proposals. The Ministry of Law’s press release lists some of the main changes it wants to make. One of the most welcome is a new exception for text and data mining (TDM) for the purpose of analysis:

Today, people who use automated techniques to analyse text, data and other content to generate insights risk infringing copyright as they typically require large scale copying of works without permission. It is proposed that a new exception be established to allow copying of copyrighted materials for the purpose of data analysis, where the user has lawful access to the materials that are copied. This will promote applications of data analytics and big data across a gamut of industries, unlocking new business opportunities, speeding up processes, and reducing costs for all.

Importantly, Singapore’s proposed new TDM exception applies to everyone — including big businesses. That’s unlike the corresponding Article 3 in the EU’s awful Copyright Directive, currently working its way through the legislative process, which imposes an unnecessary restriction that more or less guarantees the European Union will be a backwater in this fast-growing area. An obvious but wise move by Singapore is the proposal for an enhanced copyright exception for educational purposes:

Non-profit schools and their students will be able to use online resources that are accessible without payment, for instruction purposes. This will be in addition to their existing exceptions which generally cover only copying of a portion of a work. The enhancement will facilitate instruction and make it easier for teachers and students to use online materials in classes. For example, teachers and students will be able to use various audio-visual materials (e.g. videos, pictures) found online for their classroom lessons and project presentations. They will also be able to share those materials, or lessons and project presentations which have included those materials, on student learning portals for other schools to view. Online resources that require payment will not be covered by this exception.

Another suggested exception is for non-profit galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (GLAMs) to make copies for exhibition purposes. Also useful for GLAMs is a new limit on the protection given to unpublished works. This will stand at life plus 70 years for literary and artistic works, just as for published versions. GLAMs will be protected from contract override, as is the text and data mining exception. That’s important, because it means that copyright owners cannot nullify the new exceptions by insisting organizations sign contracts that waive them. Individual creators receive new rights too:

the report proposes that creators be given a new right to be attributed as the creator of their work, regardless of whether they still own or have sold the copyright. For example, anyone using a work publicly, such as posting it on the internet, will have to acknowledge the creator of the work. This will accord creators due recognition and allow them to build their reputation over time. Currently, they do not need to be attributed as the creator of their work when others use it.

This is essentially a moral right alongside the usual economic ones. As the Wikipedia page on the subject explains, the degree to which moral rights exist for creators of copyright works varies enormously around the world. In France, for example, moral rights are perpetual and inalienable, whereas in the US they are less to the fore. Singapore’s Ministry of Law also proposes that where rights have not been explicitly signed away in a contract, they remain with the creator. Although that will prevent naive creators being tricked out of their rights, it won’t apply to work created by employees: there, it’s employers who will continue to retain rights. As for enforcing copyright, there is the following:

the report proposes that new enforcement measures be made available to copyright owners to deter retailers and service providers from profiting off providing access to content from unauthorised sources, such as through the sale of set-top boxes that enable access to content from unauthorised sources, also commonly known as grey boxes or illicit streaming devices. The measures, which are absent today, will make clear that acts such as the import and sale of such devices are prohibited.

This is clearly aimed at Kodi boxes, which are currently one of the main targets of the entertainment industry. To its credit, the Ministry of Law’s proposal does include important additional requirements for the measures to apply:

the product can be used to access audio-visual content from an unauthorised source and additionally must be:

designed or made primarily for providing access to such content

advertised as providing access to such content, or

sold as providing access to such content, where the retailer sells a generic device with the understanding that “add-on” services such as the provision of website links, instructions or installation of subscription services will subsequently be provided

At least that makes a clear distinction between basic Kodi boxes, and those specifically built and sold with a view to providing unauthorized access to materials. That understanding of the difference is of a piece with the rest of the legislation, which is unusually intelligent. Other governments could learn from that, and from the overall thrust of the proposals to move Singapore’s copyright law towards a fair use system similar to that of the US — something that is fiercely resisted elsewhere.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “Proposed Update To Singapore's Copyright Laws Surprisingly Sensible”

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Tech and TDS

  1. The Buzzfeed story falls outside of Techdirt’s typical fare, even when taking the Free Speech section into account. If a story pops up about it, wonderful, but I do not expect one.
  2. The Covington Catholic situation is closer to Techdirt’s wheelhouse, but the full video shows three things: The Kovington Klan was provoked by the Black Israelites, the Catholic Chumps escalated the situation instead of either ignoring the Israelites or performing a less confrontational counteraction (e.g., kneeling in prayer), and Nathan Phillips had indignities he should not have had to endure thrust upon him by a group of idiots from a school that allowed students to wear blackface at school sporting events, banned an openly gay valedictorian from delivering a speech at his graduation ceremony, and has produced at least one rapist.
Anonymous Coward says:

Inasmuch as they have a RIAA clone and the TPB ban, Singapore is… surprisingly level-headed when it comes to IP law. Not a high bar to clear, granted, but at least they’ve managed to get a few things right, such as online DVR being acceptable and not letting the Dallas Buyers Club scam sink its roots.

Of course, this sanity can’t really be extended to the RIAS.

DocGerbil100 says:

Seems like good rules. Kudos to Singapore. 🙂

I have to wonder about that moral rights thing, though. Specifically, I’m wondering if that would affect minor contributors to open source works, many of whom just add a bit of code, with no expectations of being properly credited in the way the new law seems to contemplate. Would they be classed as employees or creators?

Still, it’s a good set of laws, as proposed. Here’s hoping the industry lawyers don’t fuck it all up at the last minute. 🙂

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Artist unknown' = 'Posting prohibited'?

For example, anyone using a work publicly, such as posting it on the internet, will have to acknowledge the creator of the work.

Attribution is generally a good thing, and something I’d be in favor of whenever possible, however a potential problem occurs to me that could come up when you don’t know who the creator is.

If attribution is required, but you don’t have any idea as to who actually made a work, would that result in a situation where any work you can’t source is essentially illegal to post? Because unless they plan to include a mandatory copyright database to check work ownership against it seems that such a rule could have a pretty serious chilling effect, as anything that people can’t source would be barred from being shared/used, since attribution would be impossible to manage.

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