Fun-pack song didn't break law, but...

By Joy Fang

THERE is now a new twist to the saga of the National Day Parade (NDP) fun-pack ditty: The organising committee did not flout copyright laws by changing the lyrics of Lady Gaga's hit, Bad Romance.

Addressing the issue at a press conference held last night during the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (Compass) Awards, Dr Edmund Lam, the society's chief executive and director, said that the committee's action was not an infringement of copyright, as it had obtained a public-performance licence for the song.

But the recording of the performance and subsequent uploading of the video onto YouTube - making it a permanent material form on a public platform - is a copyright infringement.

So, the liability rests with the uploader of the video, not the NDP organisers, said Dr Lam.


But the NDP committee did break the rules by printing the lyrics of the modified song in booklets that were distributed to the public. Dr Lam said the parade organisers will address the issue by covering up the lyrics in the remaining booklets. They also said earlier that they would not use the modified song.

As for the video uploader, Dr Lam said that, in general, "it is not our practice to take legal action and chase after people who illegally upload such videos onto YouTube", adding that music publisher Sony/ATV, the administrator of Lady Gaga's musical works, has told YouTube to block the video.

The fun-pack song saga had prompted jittery music fans here to ask where the line is drawn when it comes to modifying a tune for sharing on, say, Facebook or YouTube.

Intellectual-property lawyers told my paper that any individual who makes a fan clip without the rights-holder's permission is guilty of an offence, as the right to reproduction, right to public performance and to adapt a song belong solely to the company or artist.

But, at the same time, many corporations or rights-holders do not wish to alienate fans by bringing a lawsuit against them, said Mr Samuel Seow, managing director of media-law firm Samuel Seow Law Corporation. And fan videos usually do not serve as a "market substitute" depriving the copyright owner of his royalties, he added.

But in the event that the rights-owner is hit financially, a lawsuit could emerge.

Mr Bryan Tan, a technology lawyer with Keystone Law Corporation, said that, in some cases, rights-holders would let the issue slide if a fan video "draws attention to the song, (making) people wonder what the original version sounds like, and buy the CD or digital download".

Though the process of obtaining permission to make parodies or fan clips can be complex, fans are always advised to seek permission before modifying a song, said Mr Daniel Lim, director of Stamford Law.

A lawyer familiar with intellectual-property and copyright issues said that spoofs and parodies are "less culpable", compared with illegal peer-to-peer sharing of digital music.

For fans who insist on making clips and parodies, they can argue that a parody is considered "fair dealing" under the Copyright Act, which was amended in 2004.

Last night, home-grown composer Chester Tan, 36, who took home two Compass awards at the annual ceremony, told my paper that he would not get mad if someone used his tunes for their own purposes as long as they informed him.

"I'd just like to know that people are using the music for a good cause and not for piracy," he said.

But lawyer Bryan Tan urged people to err on the side of caution. "Just because a few people are getting away with (fan parodies and spoof videos) doesn't mean everybody will," he said.

For more my paper stories click here.