An Introduction to Copyright Law in Singapore

Under Singapore’s Copyright Act, it is a criminal offense for a person or company to conduct wilful copyright infringement. The statute of limitations for copyright infringement in Singapore is six years.

Copyright protects works like literary, computer programs, plays, music and paintings. It is not ideas but their expression that are protected by copyright law. Generally, the author of a copyright work has the right to reproduce, publish, perform, communicate and adapt his work. These different exclusive rights form the bundle of rights that we refer to as copyright. These rights enable a copyright owner to control the commercial exploitation of his work.

Copyright is a type of property that can be traded just like other types of tangible property. It can be licensed or transferred, either as an entire bundle (i.e. all of the distinct rights under copyright bundle) or as a single right (e.g. only the right to reproduce).

Copyright protection in Singapore

The modern Copyright Act (Cap. 63) of Singapore was passed in 1987 and is based on Australian legislation. The original Copyright Act 1911 of United Kingdom remains relevant in relation to copyright material made before the current Act came into effect.

For a work to be protected by copyright in Singapore, it has to be original and expressed in a tangible form such as in a recording or in writing. Originality simply means that there is a degree of independent effort in the creation of the work. It is not a question of whether the work has creative merit.

In Singapore, an author automatically enjoys copyright protection as soon as he creates and expresses his work in a tangible form. There is no need to file for registration to get copyright protection.

Copyrights may be licensed by the owner to a thrird party. Future copyrights for a work that has yet to be produced can also be licensed. The licence can be full or partial with limited scope. A license can be exclusive or non-exclusive.

Generally, the original author of the work owns the copyright, unless the work was commissioned by the other party in which case the other party will own the copyright (unless there is an agreement otherwise). Similarly, in case of an employee/employer relationship, the employer will own the copyright subject to an agreement otherwise.

Copyright infringement in Singapore occurs when one of a copyright owner’s exclusive rights is violated – which can occur when someone copies, distributes, performs or displays all or part of a copyright work without the permission of the copyright owner. To establish copyright infringement, a copyright owner must establish proof of copyright ownership and proof of copying.

The Copyright Act of Singapore allows a person to copy part of a work (not substantial) for private study or research only.

Effective January 2005 (when the Singapore Copyright Act was amended), it is now a criminal offense for a person or company to conduct willful copyright infringement. The statute of limitations for copyright infringement in Singapore is six years.

Copyright vs Trademark

Copyright and trademark both refer to protection of intellectual property, but they afford protection to different types of intellectual property. According to the US Copyright Office FAQ, copyright “protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.”

Trademarks, on the other hand, would cover signs, such as logos and brand names. The US Patent and Trademark Office says that “A trademark includes any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods. In short, a trademark is a brand name.”

The copyright protects the form of expression rather than the subject matter of the writing. As an example, a specific description of a camera could be copyrighted, but this would only prevent others from copying the description; it would not prevent others from writing a description of their own or from making and using the camera. Copyright law does not protect a bare phrase, slogan, or trade name.

The purpose of a registered trademark is to protect words, phrases and logos used in business to identify the source of goods and/or services. Trademark rights may be used to prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark, but not to prevent others from making the same goods or from selling the same goods or services under a clearly different mark. If you are interested in protecting a brand, title, slogan, or other short word or phrase, then generally speaking, you would want to register a trademark.

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