Every household in Singapore probably did a little jolly jig on Friday when the government announced radio and TV license will be abolished, finally.
During his budget speech, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam explained that license fees were "losing their relevance" with increasing media convergence where anyone can now receive broadcast content over the Internet and mobile devices, and TV ownership is no longer limited to middle- and higher-income groups.
First introduced in 1963, radio and TV license fees in Singapore were applicable to all households, non-residential premises including hotels, retail outlets and offices that had TV or radio sets, as well as owners of vehicles with radios.
Fees collected, which totaled S$132.5 million in 2009, were used to fund public service broadcast content. Such content included local productions and drama series for the country's free-to-air channels in English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil.
With the abolishment of the license, Singaporean households no longer need to pay the annual fee of S$110.
Amid my own celebration over this piece of news--I'll be waiting with bated breath to receive the refund of my in-vehicle radio tax--my thoughts diverted to a recent lawsuit involving RecordTV and national broadcaster MediaCorp.
Long story short, RecordTV won an appeal to offer a service that allowed registered online users to record and view programs on MediaCorp's free-to-air TV channels on their PCs. The broadcaster had alleged that the online service breached its copyright.
In its ruling, the Court of Appeal said the local judiciary system should interpret copyright legislation in light of technological advances which have "clear legitimate and beneficial uses for the public".
Specifically, the court's judgment weighed heavily on the fact that Singaporeans owned TV licenses.
Access to the RecordTV service, it said, was restricted to registered users based in Singapore who held valid televisions and were "legally entitled to view and record" MediaCorp shows. "In this regard, it should be noted that all members of the public in Singapore who hold valid television licenses are in effect licensed by MediaCorp to view the MediaCorp shows... By virtue of s114 of the Copyright Act, persons in Singapore who hold valid television licenses can also make copies of the MediaCorp shows for their own 'private and domestic' use."
It further noted: "RecordTV's service represents a significant technological improvement over existing recording methods and facilitates the more convenient enjoyment of television viewing rights by those registered users living in Singapore who hold valid television licenses.
"Since RecordTV was doing no more than making it more convenient for the aforesaid registered users to enjoy the MediaCorp shows (which was something that these registered users were entitled to do as MediaCorp had licensed them to view those shows), we are of the view that the public interest is better served by encouraging rather than stifling the use of RecordTV's novel technology, especially given that MediaCorp has apparently not suffered any loss from RecordTV's provision of an additional and better time-shifting service to registered users who are licensed to view the MediaCorp shows."
Sooooo, now that Singapore no longer imposes a TV license, will this now render the court's ruling moot? Hmmm.