SINGAPORE – Sharing or posting a video of a quirky dance performance online in Singapore, or a photo of a painting from an art gallery here, will soon require the performer or creator to be identified and credited, under proposed changes to the law.
This applies not just to commercial entities and public figures, but members of the public, too, according to changes to the Copyright Act tabled by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) in Parliament on Tuesday (July 6).
The requirement does not apply to past public uses of such works. It will apply to future uses only after most provisions in the amendments come into force – if they are passed in Parliament – in November.
The attribution has to be done in a clear and reasonably prominent manner, said MinLaw.
Some legal experts believe that the changes are not meant to go after the man in the street, but rather to prevent businesses from getting away with not crediting creators when profiting from their works.
Still, there are concerns that the creator-crediting requirement could stifle some public conversations.
Under the proposed changes, if a person does not credit the creator of a work that he uses publicly, the creator can ask to be identified.
And if the person refuses to do so, the creator can take legal action to get credited or have the work taken down, as well as seek financial compensation from the person if there is potential income loss that can be shown.
Works that require crediting include literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, which can include paintings and sculptures.
Attribution will be needed for performances such as dances, songs performed by singers and book or poetry recitals, if the changes kick in.
Under the current Copyright Act, creators and performers do not have the right to be identified when their work or performance is used.
They have the right only to stop their work or performance from being falsely attributed to another person.
Asked why members of the public are also required to identify creators, a MinLaw spokesman told The Straits Times that “it is important for the general public to identify our creators and performers wherever such information is available”.
“This accords creators and performers the respect and recognition they deserve. This is especially important for amateur creators, or those who are just starting out and who may not have commercialised their works yet,” she said.
“They should receive recognition whenever their work is shared or reproduced, and not only when there is a profit element. Such exposure would help build their reputation and may even help them to commercialise their future works.”
The spokesman added that recognising creators and performers also encourages them to continue producing creative works for the benefit of society.
Mr Adrian Tan, head of intellectual property at law firm TSMP Law Corporation, said the proposed changes to the Copyright Act are meant to address problems in the commercial world.
“In the past, businesses would profit from the creative efforts of artists, without even acknowledging them,” he said, adding that with the proposed changes, “the creative community can now take businesses to task”.
He said that for members of the public who, for instance, share photos of artwork on Facebook with friends, it is unlikely that the creators will come down on them to get credited. “Ordinary social media users can carry on doing what they’ve been doing.”
And even if the creator contacts them to ask to be credited, there is generally no harm and it does not take a lot of effort for people to do so, Mr Tan added.
“It’s highly unlikely that we will be liable to pay financial compensation in such a situation.”
But if the work goes viral and is not credited, the creator could potentially lose money and business opportunities, he said.
This gets compounded if the person sharing the uncredited work is a public figure, such as an influencer with millions of followers.
In such cases, if there is still no attribution for the works despite requests from the creators, they would have valid reasons to take legal action, said Mr Tan.
The spokesman for MinLaw said it took reference from Britain’s legislation on the right to be identified, adding that many jurisdictions require the general public to identify creators.
Professor David Tan from the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law said the moral right to properly acknowledge the creators of works is an important one that has been recognised in many countries, including France, Italy and Australia.
“I am glad to see Singapore joining this good company, framing it as the right to be identified and the right not to be falsely identified, applicable to living creators,” he added.
TSMP’s Mr Tan said he was not aware of overseas legal cases in which creators went after members of the public who refused to credit them. Instead, reported cases tend to be for commercial disputes.
There are also exceptions where credit is not necessary. For instance, crediting of creators is not required for artistic works such as sculptures or statues that are permanently located in public places. Buildings in public places also do not need to be credited.
Other exceptions include when the works are used for news reporting and judicial proceedings.
Also exempted are when the works in a video or photo are in the background and not the focus, and when the person using the works publicly cannot reasonably figure out the creators’ identities.
Still, there are some concerns.
Prof Tan said that when social media users, such as influencers who make money from their accounts, repost content such as videos and images, they could be infringing the copyrights for the content unless they can prove that they used the videos and images fairly.
But if they do not identify the creators of the content, they could be flouting the requirement to identify the creators, with no general fair use defence they can rely on.
“I find this… discomfiting. It seems to be an overly onerous requirement that is skewed too much in favour of creators who may not suffer significant economic harm from a lack of identification,” said Prof Tan.
The creator-crediting requirement could also cause some people to be afraid of the potential legal implications of not attributing, such as being sued, he added.
This could mean “members of the public end up sharing fewer images and videos on social media, thus chilling social communication”, said Prof Tan.
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