Intellectual Property – Copyright
As a media freelancer and a creator of original work, you have the right to protect the integrity of your work and how it is used. In some cases, you can save yourself the hassle of dispute by registering your intellectual property early with the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS).
What is Intellectual Property to me as an media freelancer?
Intellectual Property or IP refers to creations of the human mind. Some common examples are inventions, trademarks, designs and brands. Protecting your creations, and where necessary, registering them with the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) can save you the effort of having to prove that the creations are originally yours when someone “steals” them or plagiarizes your work. Once your work qualifies as a particular type of IP, you can commercialise your rights in this “IP” by licensing, assigning or selling it to others.
There are several types of IP for different creations, each governed by different laws in Singapore. Do visit www.ipos.gov.sg to find out more.
What is Copyright to me as a media freelancer?
Copyright applies in more situations than you might realise – from the script in a play we watched, to when we listen to music on the radio or in a movie – we are availing ourselves to materials that are copyrighted.
Copyright protects a wide range of works such as novels, computer programmes, plays, music, film, photographs and paintings. When you own the copyright to these works, you have the exclusive and assignable legal right for a fixed number of years to print, publish, perform, duplicate or make a recording of that literary, artistic or musical material. This means you control the use and commercial exploitation of these works and no one can use the copyrighted work without your prior permission. This exclusive legal right allows you as the owner, author or creator to commercially exploit the work by transferring or licensing it to a third party.
Of course, the converse is true that you cannot violate copyright by using other people’s work within your project without first seeking copyright clearance from the proper rightsholders.
In Singapore, while we do not have a formal copyright registration system, you enjoy automatic copyright protection as soon as your work is created or expressed in a form which is tangible. That is to say, a creator gets automatic copyright protection as soon as that work is reduced to a form that allows it to be reproduced, such as when the story is written on paper, when a script is typed and saved in a digital file, when a play is performed, when a song is written or recorded, or when a painting or a sculpture is created.
However, ideas or concepts, procedures, methods or works which have yet to be made in tangible form are not protected by copyright.
If it is a Joint or Collective work, what is my copyright?
If you collaborate with your fellow arts practitioners to create an artwork, write a script or a novel for example, the work is considered a work of joint authorship. In joint copyright ownership, each joint owner holds an undivided interest in the piece of work. This means you or your fellow collaborators cannot grant a licence under the copyright without the consent of every party involved in the creation of this joint work.
In a collective work, each author creating his or her own piece of work holds the copyright to his or her individual work. For example, a collection of short stories by different authors will represent a collective work. Therefore, each author would have individual copyright over the respective short story written by him or her.
If it is a Commissioned work, who has the copyright?
The general rule is that an author, creator or artist of a piece of work is the first owner of any copyright. However, subject to a legal contract agreed between the arts practitioner and the commissioner, the copyright in certain* commissioned works like portraits, photographs or engravings may belong to the commissioner of those works rather than the arts practitioner.
Whilst the commissioner owns the copyright to the commissioned work, the work should be used for the purposes envisioned in the commissioning arrangement. The artist or creator retains the right to stop the commissioner or any persons or companies from using the work contrary to its original purpose. For example, if you are a photographer commissioned by a bridegroom to take photographs of his prestigious wedding, the copyright of the photographs belongs to the bridegroom. However, you can stop the wedding dress boutique who dressed the couple from using the photographs as advertisement.
*For other types of commissioned works, the ownership belongs to the commissioned party unless both parties (the commissioner and the commissioned party) agree otherwise.
How long does Copyright Protection last until it becomes Public Domain?
Copyright provides creators with legal rights over their creative works for a specified time period. Once that period of time is over, the creative work becomes part of “public domain” and is free to be “utilised” by the public.
This period of protection varies according to the type of copyright work you own:
- Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works receive copyright protection for 70 years from the end of the year in which the author died. If the work is published after the death of the author, it will last 70 years from the end of the year in which the work was first published.
- Published editions (i.e. the style, arrangement and appearance of the letters, numbers and symbols) of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works maintain copyright for 25 years from the end of the year in which the edition was first published.
- Sound recordings and films receive copyright protection for 70 years from the end of the year in which the sound recording or film was first published.
- Broadcasts and cable programmes receive copyright protection for 50 years from the end of the first year of making the broadcast or cable programme.
- Performances maintain copyright protection for 70 years from the end of the year of the first performance.
Someone has copied my work! What should I do?
Your copyright is infringed when someone uses or
makes a copy of your copyright work without first obtaining your
permission. You can take legal action against this person, or as a
preferred first step, negotiate and mediate through a neutral third
party to resolve your copyright dispute.
If you 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. You can make an appointment at
In brief, here are a few remedies:
- You can seek action to stop the infringing action;
- You can claim for damages for the loss suffered; or
- You can claim the profits gained by the infringing party.
However, as IP protection is territorial, this means that IP protected in Singapore does not enjoy the same recognition or protection overseas.
How and where do I obtain Consent from a copyright owner to use a bit of his work in my own art work?
If you are producing a play or using a particular piece of copyrighted music or song for your musical, you will need to contact the copyright owner for consent and to negotiate for a licence to utilise the copyrighted material.
Alternatively, a licence may be obtained through a legally authorised collective management organisation, e.g. the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (COMPASS), Recording Industry Performance Singapore Pte Ltd, Motion Picture Licencing Company Singapore Pte Ltd, to list a few.
If you are using material found on Creative Commons (CC), there is no further need to seek explicit permission from the copyright owner, as long as the use conforms to the terms under which the licence was obtained.
Creative Commons, Copyleft and when and how I can use public information or designs in my own art work.
What is Creative Commons?
Creative Commons is a not-for-profit organisation that provides licences and tools to permit copyright owners to determine the terms under which their material may be used worldwide. You are able to use these materials without the need to seek further permission so long as the use conforms to the terms under which the licences were obtained.
In brief, Creative Commons allows artists and authors to retain copyright and get credit for their work whilst allowing others to copy, distribute and utilise the creative works. It gives everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardised way to grant copyright permission to their creative work. The pool of content found here can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed and built upon, but all within the boundary of their licensing terms.
What is Copyleft?
Copyleft, distinguished from copyright, is the practice of offering people the right to freely use a created work, or distribute copies or modify it (in other words, create a derivative work), with the stipulation that the same rights that govern the original work apply to the derivative works.
In other words, Copyleft is an arrangement whereby software or artistic work may be used, modified and distributed freely on condition that the derived or remixed work can also be used freely by others. Copyright, in comparison, is such that no one can use the copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright owner.
Whether copyright or copyleft though, never assume that whatever is readily accessible on the internet is fair game for copying. Before you copy or use any material online, always check if the website has Terms and Conditions governing the use of content. The Terms and Conditions is usually found at the bottom of the Homepage and is worth identifying and writing to the website owner for permission before you use the content. For software content, the terms of the license are typically contained within the headers of the code itself, and you should make sure you understand the license terms before integrating that piece of software into your own codebase. If you are creating proprietary software and intend to integrate open-source codebase into your software, be aware that many open-source codes contains copyleft license terms and could infect your codebase and cause it to become freely available for use by others.