How Small Businesses & Freelancers In Singapore Can Protect Their Intellectual Property

How Small Businesses & Freelancers In Singapore Can Protect Their Intellectual Property
18 Oct 2021

Singapore’s Copyright Act (CA) has been in place since 1987 (with revisions made in 2006) but a recent round of Amendments passed in Parliament on 13 Sep 2021 has brought it into the spotlight. The CA protects works of expression in Singapore from being used or exploited by commercial sources, and covers literary, dramatic, musical, artistic works, and even software. The recent changes to the CA offer greater protection and more avenues of legal recourse to authors and creatives, allowing them to better protect their intellectual property.

Coverage under the Copyright Act of Singapore

Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind, including artistic works, inventions, symbols, or registered names and designs. While ‘copyright’ is commonly used as an umbrella term when discussing intellectual property, copyright can actually be broken down into specific rights to reproduce, publish, perform, communicate, and adapt a work. The author of a copyright work innately possesses these rights, but can choose to licence or transfer these rights to someone else. This enables the author to control who can profit from their work, and to protect their work as well.

To be covered under Singapore’s CA, the work has to be original and expressed in a tangible form (e.g. a recording of a performance, or a written text). In addition, the work or Author has to be connected to Singapore in some way.

Authors do not have to apply to receive copyright as it will be automatically applied to their work. However, the recent amendments have brought to light certain loopholes in the CA, with the intention to close these loopholes and improve copyright protection in Singapore.

1. Creative works distributed online must now be credited

Online distribution of public creative works must now credit the creator or performer. This means that when posting or sharing a viral dance video or photos taken during an art exhibition, specific credit must be given to the creators featured.

With the rise of video-sharing platforms such as TikTok, many creators have gone viral to thousands of people worldwide - but they have not been recognised as the creators due to missing credit. This new change will allow creators to access profits or opportunities that they previously missed out on, as well as protect their work from misuse under new copyright guidelines.

2. Creators will be recognised as the first owners of copyright by default

Creators of artistic works (including photographs, films, and portraits) will be recognised as the default first owners of copyright, even if commissioned by someone else. However, they can waive or transfer ownership during negotiations with the commissioner.

A popular example of this is wedding photos. Previously, wedding photographers did not possess copyright even though they were the ones who took and edited the photos. This meant that photographers had difficulty getting legal recourse in instances where the married couple did not pay for the photos after receiving them. The new change will allow creators to better protect their works and seek legal recourse from errant commissioners or retailers.

3. Extension of copyright duration

Copyright protection of literary, musical, dramatic, and artistic works will expire 70 years after the author’s death, an extension of existing durations that vary across different types of work.

How to protect and use copyright work

  1. Copyright protection as an Author

As an Author, you can choose to licence your work to third-parties who wish to use it for commercial or personal reasons. Another option is assigning copyright to a third-party, but this causes you to lose ownership of the copyright once it is assigned. If approached by a business with a request to waive or licence certain rights under Copyright, it is recommended to seek legal advice from a patent or Intellectual Property (IP) attorney who can guide you through the specific terms and conditions to include in the contract.

  1. Using copyrighted work as a business or individual

For small businesses and individuals who want to avoid infringing copyright law, a general rule of thumb is to first approach the Author to see if you can negotiate a legal contract for grounds of use. A comprehensive legal contract can help protect both parties in any situation, as well as set clear boundaries ahead of time to avoid miscommunication. If the work falls under a copyright exception (such as fair use), it may be possible to use the work without crediting. However, a common courtesy is to inform the Author of your intentions regardless.

What to do if someone infringes on your copyrighted work

Depending on the severity of the offence, there are civil and criminal options for legal recourse that can be pursued by an Author. Authors can undertake civil proceedings to sue for damages or any profits made by the third-party. You can also request a court order to stop further violation of the copyright. If the third-party is making copies of your copyrighted work for sale or selling your works, you can seek criminal charges. Under Section 136 of the CA, offenders can receive fines of up to a total of $100,000, or up to 5 years in jail, or both.

Our Intellectual Property lawyers can provide expert advice on copyright-related issues in Singapore. Reach out to our IP lawyers today for more information on copyright law, trademark infringement, violation of copyright, and other related issues.

For more information, please contact our Business Development Manager, Ricky Soetikno, at