Sanctions not the answer

Sanctions not the answer

Much ink has been spilt on the state of current copyright laws and how they are inadequate in combating online piracy ("Lax enforcement of music copyright laws" by Mr Chen Yongjie, last Saturday; and "Clarify law and enforce it" by Mr Tan Yu Song, Thursday).

The frustration on the part of copyright owners is understandable, but it is not a problem unique to Singapore.

Prosecuting individual infringements is not so much an "administrative nightmare" as it is impractical.

The authorities are mindful of this - hence, the inclusion of criminal penalties under the amended Copyright Act in 2005 was primarily targeted at service providers or companies that thrive on piracy, which is also why the threshold of infringement on a "significant" scale exists.

Prosecuting every individual infringement gives rise to the question of whether it is justified to use a large amount of public monies to enforce the private property rights of a few individuals.

Stepping up enforcement through criminal sanctions is therefore unlikely to materialise, and the burden of enforcing copyrights would remain on the copyright holders rather than the Government.

Even in stepping up enforcement measures, it is crucial to prevent overreach by the copyright owners.

In order to succeed in a copyright claim, the work must exist in some material form and be original, among other criteria. A person may not have a valid copyright claim even if he believes he does.

For example, entertainment giant Viacom sent 100,000 take-down notices to YouTube in 2007, but not all the clips infringed copyright or were even copyrighted in the first place.

Non-discriminatory enforcement of copyright claims may lead to potential abuse by copyright holders simply trying out a "machine gun" approach in the hopes that some claims would be valid.

Ultimately, the use of sanctions to force compliance is misguided. Especially for copyright laws, relying on sanctions alone is not only impractical but also insufficient to produce a normative effect and deter piracy.

Therefore, we should not be too quick to discount the value of public education, industrial ethical codes, and increasing avenues for legitimate purchases of music and videos, all of which may help cultivate a moral attitude towards copyright laws.

Tan Kai Yun (Miss)

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