Copyright protects works like novels, computer programmes, plays, music, film, photographs and paintings.

When you own the copyright to any of these works, you control the use and commercial exploitation of these works. This means that you have the right to prevent others from reproducing, publishing, performing, communicating to the public, or adapting your work. 

Scope of Protection

Copyright protects the expression of ideas in tangible forms. Ideas alone cannot be protected. Here are what may be protected under copyright law:

Literary works
  • Written works eg. poems, lyrics, source codes
Dramatic works
  • Scripts for films
  • Scripts for stage plays
  • Choreography
Musical works
  • Melodies
Artistic works
  • Drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographs, engravings*
  • Buildings or models of buildings*
  • Works of artistic craftsmanship
* regardless of artistic merit

Additionally, films, sound recordings, television and radio broadcasts, cable programmes and performances are also protected by copyright.

The (c) Symbol

The copyright or (c) symbol is merely a notice by the owner that copyright exists. The presence of the symbol does not give the copyright owner any additional rights; the absence of the symbol does not mean that the copyright owner has waived his rights.

In practice, the symbol is usually followed by the year when a copy of the work was first made available and the name of the copyright owner.

Term of Protection

The duration varies according to the type of copyright work you own.

Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works

70 years from the end of the year in which the creator died. Specifically for photographs, or if the works is published after the death of the author, it lasts for 70 years, from the end of the year in which the work was first published.

Published editions of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works

25 years from the end of the year in which the edition was first published.

Sound recordings 

70 years from the end of the year in which the sound recording is first published.

Broadcasts and cable programmes

50 years from the end of the year of making the broadcast or cable programme.

Performances

70 years from the end of the year of the performance.


Ownership

In general, the person who created the work (i.e. the author) owns the copyright in the work.

However, there are three situations where this to this general rule is not applied. i.e. where the creator of the work, by default, is not the first owner of the copyright.

Employees

If you created the works during employment, your employer will automatically own the work. This applies to all employees, except for journalists.

Journalists

If you created the works while employed as a journalist by a newspaper, magazine or other periodical, and the work is created for the publication in these mediums, your employer will automatically have the right to publish and reproduce these works in publications.

However, you, as the journalist, still have the right to publish the work for other purposes such as collation into a book.

Some commissioned works

If you were paid under an agreement, for the creation of portrait, photograph or engraving, the person who commissioned or paid for the creation of these works will automatically own the copyright in those works. In short, the person who paid to create certain types of work would be the copyright owner.For all other types of works, ownership belongs to the commissioned party.


Related information:

Rights of a copyright owner


Commercialisation

Copyright, like real estate, can be sold or leased. Selling your copyright means transferring/assigning your ownership of the copyright to a third party. Leasing your copyright means licensing a third party specific uses of the copyright protected work. The transfer/assignment or licensing of copyright is usually carried out by a written contract together with payment of fees.

Assignment and licensing of the copyright can generate revenue streams for the copyright holder.

As a copyright owner, bear these in mind when choosing between an assignment and a license:

  Assignment License
Do I retain ownership of the copyright?  No

Ownership of the copyright is completely transferred to a new owner.
Yes
Do I have full control over the copyright?  No Yes
Is my permission still required should third parties request to use my copyright? No Yes

The third party licensee will only have the right to use the copyright as set out in the license.
Can I charge third parties a fee for using my copyright?  Yes Yes

Related information:

Assignment and Licensing

Permission to use

Before using any copyright work that belongs to a third party, you should always get copyright owner’s permission. This way, you can avoid the risk of copyright infringement.

Infringement occurs when you have not obtained the consent of the copyright owner to do something that only the copyright owner has the right to do. For example, making a photocopy of a textbook without the consent of the publisher.

To obtain consent from copyright owners, you may:

  1. contact the copyright owner directly and negotiate for a licence to use the copyright material; or
  2. obtain a licence through a collective management organisation.

Alternatively, you may use the materials found on Creative Commons (CC) without the need to further seek explicit permission from the owner, so long as the use conforms to the licence attributes.

More information on CC licenses can be found here.

Using or copying materials from the internet

Do not assume that whatever is posted on the internet is fair game for copying. 

Before you copy or use any material available on the internet, always check if the website has terms and conditions governing use of content on the website. A link to the terms and conditions can usually be found at the foot of the homepage. Else, try to identify the website owner and write to them for permission.


Related information:

Exceptions

Infringement & Enforcement

Your copyright is infringed when a third party uses or makes a copy of your copyright work without obtaining your permission, or license.

An infringement occurs when a substantial amount of the original work, quality-wise, has been copied and/or when one deals commercially with infringing copies e.g., if a person:

  • imports infringing copies for sale of distribution
  • makes available infringing copies for sale or rent, that disadvantages the owner
  • offers infringing copies for sale or hire by way of trade

If your copyright has been infringed, you may take legal action against the person who has infringed your copyright. If you believe that your copyright has been infringed, and wish to get some preliminary advice on available remedies or enforcement actions, you can speak with external legal consultants at the IPOS' IP Legal Clinic. 

Depending on the circumstances, a legal approach to enforce your copyright may not always be appropriate. You may wish to consider alternative methods such as negotiation or mediation to resolve your copyright dispute. Find out more information on alternative dispute resolution


Related information:

Remedies Criminal Offences Border Enforcement Measures Technological Protection Measures Rights Management Information

Copyright Resources


The Copyright Tribunal is a forum for resolving licensing disputes between collective management organisations and users of copyright materials. 

Structure of the Copyright Tribunal

There is a President to the Copyright Tribunals, as well as two Deputy Presidents and up to 15 members. Either the President or a Deputy President may preside over a Tribunal that is formed, and each Tribunal will consist of three members.

The current presiding Copyright Tribunal is DJ James Leong, District Judge, Subordinate Courts of Singapore. More details on the membership of the Copyright Tribunal can be found here.

Jurisdiction of the Copyright Tribunal

A Tribunal is empowered to:
  • Resolve disputes relating to licences and licence schemes in relation to a work or other subject matter.
  • Ascertain the royalty payable for the recording of musical works and, where applicable, apportion the royalty in respect of a record.
  • Determine what constitutes "equitable remuneration" for the right to film artistic works for permitted broadcasts or cable programmes.
  • Determine what constitutes "equitable remuneration " for the making available to the public of a sound recording through a non-interactive digital audio transmission;
  • Determine what constitutes "equitable remuneration" payable by educational institutions when they use copyright materials within the permissible limits allowed under the Copyright Act; and
  • Determine the terms on which the Singapore Government can use copyright material.

A Tribunal has the power to refer to the High Court any matter that comes before it for the determination on a point of law. This may be done on its own volition or at the request of any party to the matter. 

Resolving a dispute with the Copyright Tribunal

The procedure for applications to be made to a Tribunal is set out in the Copyright Tribunal (Procedure) Regulations 1988. The forms are available here.

The Tribunal will consider the application and, after giving the parties an opportunity to present their cases, shall issue an order. Orders for previous applications may be found here.

Secretariat of the Copyright Tribunal

IPOS is the Secretariat and assists with the administration of the Copyright Tribunal.

The submission of any forms or fees should be made to the Secretariat: 

Monday to Friday  8.30 am - 5.00 pm 
Secretary to the Copyright Tribunals

Intellectual Property Office of Singapore
51 Bras Basah Road, #04-01 Manulife Centre, Singapore 189554
Tel: 6339 8616, Fax: 6339 0252