EventsNavigating Copyright Issues in Singaporean Live Streaming

Navigating Copyright Issues in Singaporean Live Streaming

Live streaming Singapore presents a variety of copyright issues due to its wide-ranging nature. Generally, the streamers themselves are creating content as they are usually engaging in activities such as gaming, music performance, or even creating their own audio/visual presentations. On the other hand, there are cases where streamers live broadcast TV shows or movies that are owned by others.

A prime example would be the advent of live streaming Singapore. Live streaming has gained widespread popularity in Singapore with the increasing accessibility to high-speed internet. The ability to broadcast live video over the internet using only a smartphone has made it easy for people to create and share content.

Copyright law in Singapore has seen considerable growth and change since it was first introduced in the Copyright Act of 1987. To keep up with evolving technologies and behavioral patterns, various amendments have been added over the years, which has made copyright law considerably more complex. The rise of internet-related activities in recent times has further exacerbated this complexity.

Understanding Copyright Laws in Singapore

Singapore is also a member of the Berne Convention since 1998. The Convention ensures that the standard of copyright protection in the member countries is similar and that the rights of the copyright owners from one member country are recognized in other member countries. This means that works from other member countries, and works from Singapore, are equally protected when given copyright protection in either country. This is particularly useful for live streaming as it is often accessible to overseas viewers.

It is with this understanding that the law will grant copyright protection to the individual that creates a piece of work. Singapore recognizes the creator of the work as the copyright owner and affirms protection of their rights.

Copyright law in Singapore is legislated in the Copyright Act (CA) and its subordinate legislation, and is enforced by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS). Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the Singapore Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. The tangible medium of expression can be an article, a song, a video recording, a drawing, a sculpture or any other kind of creative work.

Issues in Live Streaming

The live streaming of copyrighted material can have serious implications. If the content is video game footage, and the game contains copyrighted music, the broadcaster is technically in breach of copyright. A 2010 study of citizens in Singapore indicates that there was a significant lack of understanding on what constitutes intellectual property. According to the study, when a representative sample of the general public was asked the question ‘Do you know what is intellectual property?’, only 19% answered yes. When asked to list and identify types of intellectual property, the average score was less than 50%.

Copyright is of clear concern in the live streaming realm, where broadcasters could potentially be taken to task for a breach of copyright through using other parties’ content. This could be music, an image, or some written text – any content that is the creation of a different party. The general public’s misunderstanding of what constitutes copyright infringement is a substantial concern in itself. In recent times, TwitchTV has been plagued with copyright issues resulting from the use of unlicensed music tracks in user-created content.

Unauthorized Use of Copyrighted Content

The most significant potential consequence of using copyrighted content is being branded and served a Copyright Infringement Notice. This applies to all forms of content, live streams included. Content creating company SCOGO has given two examples. WDA Hong Kong was sued by IFPI for streaming music by local pop singers at public events and was served a notice to stop infringement. Another example was a sponsored company registering a domain and using images copied from competitors to create a similar content website to compete with the original source. Both companies faced legal action and took down all infringing content, and in the domain case, paid a total of $50k in damages.

Live streamers could also face claims from music and television/film companies for incidental use of copyrighted audio and visual content. An example given by Singaporean law company IRB Law outlines this in the case of using emoticons. A streamer may download or copy an emoticon from the internet to use on their stream. If the emoticon is copyrighted, this counts as copying and the streamer has now violated copyright law.

In the case of video game content, any part of a game that is owned or copyrighted by the distributor/developer is not able to be reused or rebroadcast without express permission, due to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. This does not mean that all companies will challenge streams using their copyrighted content, but it does mean that they reserve the right to do so and any content created after such a challenge will likely be removed.

There is no distinction between the copyright laws concerning content creators of live streams and content creators of videos. This means that any unauthorized use of copyrighted content on live streams can be subject to claims and content takedowns. Taking the case of Twitch.Tv into account, there is a large controversy over channels that live stream video gameplay.

Streaming Licensed Content

Playing music during a stream is another commonly misunderstood form of licensed content. Usually, the purchase of a song or album does not include the rights to play it publicly to an audience. These rights are usually obtained through a performance complement from the music publisher. Failure to understand this has resulted in many muted VODs and DMCA takedown notices.

For example, a user purchased a Sprays subscription to use in a Counter-Strike tournament with cash prize. If the prize was never awarded, the user would not have the right to use the sprays as it was contingent on prize money being rewarded. In the event that a streamer was invited to a LAN event, they may not use the sprays as the license agreement only covers online events.

In order to broadcast or use copyrights, a user must seek permission from the copyright owner unless the use is considered fair use. The rights owner may issue an authorization in the form of a document called a license, allowing one-time use or continued use. Failure to follow the rules of the license agreement may result in lost or revoked privileges and/or legal action.

Any streamer that has chosen to avoid legal issues will then ask, “How does one define licensed content?” Any content protected by copyright law is licensed content.

Fair Use and Transformative Content

This has been a highly contested concept with the explosion of video content on the internet. In essence, the doctrine of transformative use asks whether the new work merely supersedes the objects of the original creation, or instead adds something new, with a further purpose or different character altering the first with new expression, meaning or message. This concept is a cornerstone of US copyright law and has been used to protect video game content found in Let’s Plays and game streaming, most recently in a successful lawsuit by Lindsay Lohan over a character in Grand Theft Auto V. While the courts have affirmed that video game streaming essentially replaces the original work, the high burden set by US law for transformative use places it into a realm where it remains potentially protectable as video game content can be altered by the player in many ways which could be argued to add expression or a message. Most importantly, the video game is a functional system, in that it is a sequence of interrelated works which is a very broad definition that fits almost all software, music, or film. The doctrine of transformative use dashes the hopes of many content users hoping to justify their use of music by stating that it makes their video more exciting. The use of memes and image macros has also been put in doubt, an example being the recent lawsuit by Getty Images against Microsoft for its use of copyrighted images to make memes on the official Xbox site article.

Navigating Copyright Issues in Singaporean Live Streaming

Simply avoiding copyrighted content is not a solution to prevent infringement, as viewers may post copyrighted materials in chat, or live streamers themselves may accidentally broadcast copyrighted works. Pre-recorded material may also contain copyrighted content. Live streamers should identify copyrighted work which they have obtained permission to use through a comprehensive list, and should use notices and disclaimers alerting viewers that the streamer holds rights to certain materials and that viewers should not attempt to re-distribute these materials.

Apart from specific licenses procured for intended use of copyrighted content, some may find it useful to obtain a Blanket License. A Blanket License is a license that grants permission to a wide array of works that are potentially available for public performance. This license is often useful for live streamers as it can be cumbersome to identify and obtain permission for individual copyrighted works that are intended to be played in a live setting.

In Singapore, all content creators, including live streamers, must obtain the appropriate licenses and permissions for copyrighted work before they can use it. Failure to do so may result in infringement, even if the copyrighted work is not used for commercial purposes. A key aspect of copyright is that it protects the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves.

Obtaining Proper Licenses and Permissions

There are two potential sources of licenses and permissions that a streamer may wish to approach: either direct from the copyright holder or through a Collective Management Organisation (“CMO”). In theory, it would be ideal to obtain express consent from a copyright holder with a license; however, direct negotiations may be complex and costly. As a convenient alternative, CMOs act as intermediaries between copyright owners and those wanting to use copyrighted works. CMOs in Singapore include the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore Ltd (COMPASS) and Recording Industry Performers Ltd (RIPS). By obtaining a license from a CMO, the streamer can gain permission to use a wide catalogue of copyrighted works for a single fee, without having to track down individual copyright holders. To date, the music community has been more active than the film community in establishing CMOs. COMPASS has a reciprocal agreement with foreign societies to provide a worldwide repertory of music for their clients and receives a share of royalties revenue collected by foreign societies from the use of their local and foreign repertory in Singapore. COMPASS then replicates this practice for foreign music use in Singapore. It is possible for a streamer to obtain a worldwide online music license from COMPASS priced at SGD$100 a month for YouTube use or SGD$65 a month for Twitch use. An agreement with RIPS is still being negotiated with Twitch, but single song royalties can be calculated using the formula: royalty rate x number of times the song is played/viewed by users in Singapore x 0.6.

Implementing Digital Rights Management

Corporations and business entities are known to engage in digital rights management (DRM) systems and other forms of copyright protection to safeguard and monitor their digital content. Such digital content can exist in various forms such as music, films, software, or electronic documents. The purpose of such protection is wide-ranging and can include the control of the copying and distribution of digital content, limiting the usability of the content to certain agreed parameters, or ensuring the integrity and safekeeping of the content. DRM can be implemented using a combination of rights expression languages, encryption, public key infrastructure, and watermarking. In the context of the protection of streamed TV show content, DRM would involve limiting what users with differing profiles can do with the source content and associated rights information. An example of this would be a paying subscriber having the ability to view a TV show as many times as they wish within a certain time frame, while a user in an initial trial period could only have one viewing.

Monitoring and Reporting Copyright Infringements

To effectively navigate the Singaporean legal arena concerning copyright infringement, it is important to understand the penalties of being held liable for infringing content. Under the Copyright Act, liability is accrued if the person has authorized the infringement; this includes instances where the person has knowledge that infringed copyright will occur, and his/her act/omission caused the infringement. This will not bode well for streamers who unknowingly have been playing infringing music in the background of their streams. Often it can be argued that the streamer has authorized the infringement due to their silence or lack of action in stopping the playing of that music. It is crucial to avoid such situations and locate possible infringements which may be occurring in or around one’s stream. Depending on the severity of infringement, possible penalties include a large fine of up to $20,000 per infringing work, and damages of up to $100,000 per work if the infringement is considered “flagrant”. To avoid and also locate possible infringements, prevention is most definitely better than cure. Measures to prevent infringement have been mentioned in the above sections and include acquiring the correct licenses and permissions for use of media, as well as configuring the stream to ensure no copyrighted material is broadcasted without proper consent. However, in the event of copyrighted material being broadcasted unknowingly, it is essential to know the various methods to monitor and report possible infringement activity, with the ultimate goal of removing the said material and avoiding legal issues.

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