The exchange of views sparked by an article by Straits Times senior writer Andy Ho and a Forum Page letter from Associate Professor David Tan of the National University of Singapore has put the spotlight on Singapore's copyright regime.
From the perspective of the Intellectual Property Academy (IPA), a subsidiary of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, the principles behind the copyright system are fundamentally sound. The IPA is dedicated to expanding intellectual property (IP) knowledge and research, as well as helping to shape policy on IP matters.
There are well-defined and strong exclusive rights that control commercial conduct and ensure financial benefit for creative works. There are provisions that empower artists to assign their rights to agents in order to concentrate on their creative process, and there are adequate enforcement measures. Royalties can be collected, and infringement and penalty provisions exist to deter those who infringe copyright.
It is a system that encourages authors to invest time and effort in the creative process. It also encourages the formation of supply chains to facilitate the distribution of copyright works as well as mechanisms to collect royalties.
The copyright system even deals with social issues, by providing limitations and exceptions so that others can use copyright works in a fair manner without any payment. This can be seen in provisions that aim to assist educational institutions as well as people with disabilities.
These fundamentals are well established in international copyright conventions such as the 1886 Berne Convention, and are common principles across countries with different legal systems.
Prof Tan alluded to the fact that there exists a set of economic imperatives and incentives behind the copyright system. The IPA's 2006 study into the economic contributions of copyright industries revealed that the core copyright industries (industries that depend on the continued creation of new copyright works) in Singapore added $13 billion of output to the economy in 2004. They also employed up to 80,804 people.
Recently published Media Development Authority figures also show that the Printing & Reproduction of Recorded Media industry contributed nearly $2.6 billion in output and more than $1.3 billion in value-added services in 2011. These numbers lend weight to the proposition that the Singapore economy does benefit from the copyright system.
Individuals have also benefited from the system. A notable example is Jack Neo's Ah Boys To Men 2, which was reported to have taken in $6.33 million in box office receipts.
Going beyond these headline-grabbing successes, the Ministry of Manpower's survey of salary statistics (Yearbook of Manpower Statistics, 2012) on our talent base also reveals that commercial artists earn a basic wage of $3,032, while authors take home a basic wage of $3,400.
Copyright, like any policy set, has its complexities and areas for greater refinement. For example, copyright laws could be updated to keep pace with technological advances in the ways that copyright works are being used online.
Such issues should not cause us to lose sight of the fundamental principles of the Copyright Act. Through ongoing dialogue, research and engagement, it is possible to fine-tune the copyright law.
The IP Academy is committed to continue its own research, and provide data that will help fulfil the intent of the copyright law to meet the needs of the people it seeks to serve.
The writer is a Senior Research Associate at the Intellectual Property Academy.
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