Illegal music downloads: Clarify law and enforce it

As a musician, I fully understand Mr Chen Yongjie's frustration at the lack of strict enforcement of music copyright laws ("Lax enforcement of music copyright laws"; last Saturday).

The State has to implement more stringent checks on non-payment of music copyright dues.

Addressing the widespread illegal downloading of music, however, is much more onerous.

First, the problem is prevalent because of the low risk of individual prosecution.

Since 2005, it has been a criminal offence to download music illegally for personal use, but only if the infringement is "significant".

The result of allowing this ambiguity to persist is that many have got away with it.

Second, illegal downloading of music has become a social norm. Being in the majority engenders the "safety net" mentality ("They can't possibly jail all of us, right?").

This could also explain why the law is not being strictly enforced. Throwing a lot of people into jail or fining them would be an administrative nightmare.

Various solutions have been mooted, such as site-banning and public education - both of which are ineffectual.

Site-banning is analogous to banning knives to prevent murders; if murderers can find other weapons, illegal downloaders can find other sites.

Similarly, the effectiveness of public education is limited; it will never provide a sufficiently strong deterrent.

Prosecution is key, since the fear of it is incontrovertibly effective in Singapore.

However, the law should first be clarified. The keyword "significant" should be clearly defined or even removed.

Thereafter, enforcement should be stepped up. A transition period could be implemented to give individuals time to remove their illegal music collections.

Only when individuals are prosecuted can the "safety net" mindset be changed, and Singapore be seen as an intellectual property hub.

Tan Yu Song


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