Core Concepts

Learn about the basics of copyright, such as what it means, how long does copyright last, what can be copyrighted, etc.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a bundle of exclusive rights conferred on a copyright owner under the Singapore Copyright Act to do and to authorise others to do certain acts. In Singapore, copyright protection arises automatically upon creation of the work. There is no requirement for registration or application of the © copyright mark in order for copyright to subsist.

Who owns copyright?

Authorship and Ownership

Authorship and ownership are distinct concepts under Copyright law.

  • Authorship refers to the creation of the work by a person (ie the author)
  • Ownership refers to the possession of proprietary rights in the work created

What this means is that the author and the owner of the copyright may not always be the same person.

Generally, the author of an original work owns the copyright to the work. However, there are several instances in which the author is not the owner of the copyright in the work:

  • Where the work was created by an employee in the course of and pursuant to the terms of his employment, copyright will belong to the employer;
  • Where the work was created pursuant to a contract which provides for ownership of the copyright to vest in another person, copyright will belong to that other person; and
  • Where the work is a portrait, photograph or engraving which is commissioned by another person, the person who commissioned the portrait, photograph or engraving will own the copyright.

Joint Authorship

Where a work is produced as a result of the collaboration of 2 or more authors in which the contribution of each author is not separate from the contribution of the other author(s), the work is considered as a work of joint authorship.

For such a work, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, copyright in the work is shared equally between the joint authors. However, there is no requirement that joint ownership must be in equal shares, and parties can agree to ownership in unequal shares.

Where a work is owned by joint owners, a joint owner is not entitled to do acts within the scope of copyright without securing permission from the other joint-owners.

What are these rights?

An owner of copyright in an original author’s work has the exclusive right to:

  • Reproduce the work.
    Example: Photocopying portions of or the entire book.
  • Publish the work.
    Example: Printing a book and supplying it to the public.
  • Perform the work in public.
    Example: Playing a musical score at a concert.
  • Communicate the work to the public.
    Example: Sending a document to a friend by email.
  • Adapt the work.
    Example: Translating a book into another language.
Type of Work Duration
Literary, dramatic, artistic, musical Life of the author + 70 years
Works published after death of author 70 years after date of first publication
Photographs 70 years after date of first publication
Sound recordings and films 70 years after date of first publication
Performances 70 years after date of first performance
Broadcasts and cable programmes 50 years from publication of broadcast or cable programme
Published editions of works 25 years from first publication

Works with expired copyright will be considered to be in the public domain in Singapore. This also applies to works originating from other countries.

In order to enjoy copyright protection, a work must be original and must be reduced into a material form, for example, in writing. For a work to be original, there must be a degree of independent effort in the creation of the work. There is no requirement that the work must have any creative merit.

Examples of subject matter that is not protected by copyright include ideas, concepts and discoveries.

 

There are two main categories of copyright: (1) copyright in original authors’ works; and (2) copyright in subject matter other than works. The latter is often referred to as “neighbouring rights” or “entrepreneurial rights”.

Original authors’ works refer to literary, dramatic, artistic, and musical works.

Examples:

    • Literary Works
      Books, journal articles, song lyrics, computer code.
    • Dramatic Works
      Dance choreography scripts, cinema scripts, theatre plays.
    • Artistic Works
      Paintings, photographs, diagrams, drawings, images, sculptures.
    • Musical Works
      Melodies, musical scores.

 

Subject matter other than works would include sound recordings, cinematograph films, television and radio broadcasts, cable programmes, published editions of works and performances.

The existence of entrepreneurial rights in subject matter other than works do not affect the copyright in the underlying original author’s works. For example, a sound recording enjoys copyright protection as an entrepreneurial right. However, the sound recording would also consist of the melody and lyrics, which are protected as a musical work and literary work respectively.

 

There may be instances in which a work has no identifiable author or copyright owner. However, you should not presume that copyright does not subsist in such works. Under the Copyright Act, anonymous works in respect of which the author is not generally known or cannot be ascertained by reasonable inquiry are protected for a period of 70 years from the end of the year in which the work was first published.

A person who uses an orphan work therefore does so at his own risk since it is open to the anonymous author to bring proceedings for copyright infringement. The anonymous author, however, will have to prove to the satisfaction of the Court that he is indeed the author of the anonymous work.

If you are planning to use an anonymous work, please attempt a reasonable and diligent effort to locate and contact the author, for example, national library catalogues, publishers or online searches. Please also keep a record of your efforts and attempts, in case you are required to show proof of your search.

Works in the public domain can be used without the need for permission or a licence from the copyright owner.

In Singapore, works and subject matter other than works typically enter into the public domain in two main ways:

  1. Upon the expiry of the work’s copyright; or
  2. Where the owner of copyright relinquishes all rights to the work.

Works and subject matter other than works enjoy copyright for a limited duration. Once the copyright has expired, the work enters into the public domain.

Works and subject matter other than works can also enter into the public domain if the copyright owner relinquishes all copyright and entrepreneurial rights in it. A common way in which a copyright owner may relinquish his rights in a work is to apply the Creative Commons “CC0” indicia to their work. “CC0” indicates that there are no rights reserved and the copyright owner irrevocably agrees to waive all rights to the work.

Does the Singapore Copyright Act protect works from other countries?

The Copyright (International Protection) Regulations extends the protection of copyright to works and entrepreneurial rights from other countries if the work or entrepreneurial right was created or first published in a Berne Convention country or a country that is a member of the World Trade Organisation.

Actions for copyright infringement are usually brought in the courts of the country where the infringement took place. Accordingly, if someone does an act in Singapore which infringes the copyright of a work that was created in another country, the Singapore courts would have jurisdiction to hear and decide an action brought in respect of such infringement.

Copyright Infringement

Learn more about copyright infringement.

Creative Commons Licence
Unless otherwise noted, all the content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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