Singapore to review VPN role in copyright infringement

Government seeks public feedback on proposed changes to the country's copyright laws to keep pace with technological developments, including a review of VPN's role in circumventing geo-blocks.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Singapore has issued a consultation paper aimed at collecting public feedback on proposed changes to the country's copyright laws, which can include a review of IT tools deemed to help consumers bypass geo-blocks.

The Law Ministry and Intellectual Property office of Singapore (IPOS) on Tuesday released the consultation document with the aim to gather feedback over the next two months. Proposed changes included permitting the use of text for data analysis even if the copyright owner could not be identified or contacted for consent.

The government also would be reviewing the current list of "allowable circumventions of technological protection measures" needed to be revised. The Copyright Act was last amended in 2014.

The ministry said in its statement: "Technological developments in the past decade have led to immense changes in how copyrighted works are created, distributed, accessed, and used. Copyright law must keep pace with modern developments so as to support creativity and innovation. This review seeks to ensure our copyright regime continues to provide an environment that benefits both creators and users."

Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah added that the changes were aimed at helping creators gain more recognition as well as "practical protection" for their works, while ensuring users could have "reasonable and easier access" to such works.

She urged small businesses to also offer their feedback.

The review would further evaluate, amongst others, the role of virtual private network (VPN) tools, according to a report by local daily The Straits Times. Quoting IPOS Chief Executive Daren Tang, it said the office recognised there were "some complications" regarding the use of VPN.

"There are some concerns that bypassing geo-blocks could infringe copyright," said Tang, but he noted that Singapore supported parallel imports, which was what VPN facilitated in the digital realm.

Local laws currently do not explicitly state that VPNs are illegal. Such tools are commonly tapped by online users here to access content from overseas that are not available or officially sold in the country, such as Netflix's US inventory.

The video streaming provider in January said in a blog post it would block VPNs to "respect and enforce content licensing by geographic location".

While VPNs might not appear to be illegal in Singapore, the use of such tools could be considered in a copyright infringement if they were used to "knowingly circumvent a technological measure" that controlled access to works. There were exceptions in which technological circumvention would not be deemed contravention, but these related mostly, amongst others, to uses by government agencies as well as non-profit and educational institutions, for research, to establish system interoperability, and for security-related tests.

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