Architectural photographer Darren Soh gets angry when people use his photos on their online platforms without crediting him.
“I keep getting my images ripped off, mostly by real estate agents who use them to sell properties. People just take them off the internet,” complains Mr. Soh, 45, who uploads his work regularly. on social networks.
The prominent photographer is one of many artists in Singapore who welcome two proposed changes to local copyright law, although they wonder how effective they might ultimately be in protecting the rights of creators. .
Under the changes, which were tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, people who use material publicly – including online – will have to acknowledge the creator or performer of the content.
At present, creators and performers do not have the right to be identified when their work or performance is used. They only have the right to prevent these works from being falsely attributed.
Another proposed change is that copyright in works such as photographs, portraits, prints, sound recordings and films would also revert to the creator by default, whether or not the work is commissioned. Currently, the sponsor owns the copyright by default.
Under current copyright law, a person must already seek permission to use someone’s content before doing so for commercial purposes. This would not be affected by the changes, and crediting the creator would not exempt a person from this need to seek consent.
Lawyer Adrian Tan, head of intellectual property at TSMP Law Corporation, turns to the example of Mr. Soh’s real estate agents.
“If the agent, for example, was on Facebook and just shared it to say, what a great photo of a (Monetary Authority of Singapore) building, taken by Mr. X, that’s fine.
“If the agent instead says on his Facebook site that ‘This is a photo of this or that condominium and I am selling this unit in it’ then he is infringing copyright because he is doing it for his commercial gain.”
In this second scenario, the agent would have to credit the creator and also request permission to use their content. The creator could then say yes and ask for a royalty.
Most of the copyright bill’s provisions will come into effect in November if the bill is passed. The rules apply to business groups as well as the public, but would not affect past uses of the content.
Under the new Copyright Act, if a person does not credit the creator of a work that he or she uses publicly, the creator could request to be identified under the amended law. In case of refusal, the creator can take legal action to be credited or have the work withdrawn, and request financial compensation if a potential loss of income can be demonstrated.
There are some exceptions to the right to be identified – for example, if the creator or performer is unknown and cannot be reasonably determined.
Some practitioners of the arts wonder how practical it would be for artists strapped for time and resources to go after all the offending parties.
Mr Soh, who often has his photographs used online without attribution or permission, says, “If I went after all of them, I wouldn’t have time to do anything else. No one would offer to pay me, they would only offer to remove the images. “
Another designer who welcomes the proposed attribution right is Singapore-based visual artist Christine Lok, 26, who once had a photographic work copied by a watercolor artist who sent it for a competition.
“But the public could still lack awareness,” said Lok, who now watermarked the images she publishes.
Ms. Nicole K. runs an online mental health publication, the content of which has been used on other websites without credit or permission.
“People are so used to online content these days that they assume that everything on the internet is free, which it is not,” said the 39-year-old, who did not want to be known to her. last name and first name.
The changes “can encourage the spread of more creative content without causing creators to worry that their ideas and creations will be stolen or” adapted, “” she says, although having to figure out who the creator is could also lead to problems. content consumers not to share these materials so freely.
The other proposed change to the law requires that copyright reverts by default to the content creator, unless otherwise specified in a contract.
Jazz maestro Jeremy Monteiro, 61, says the proposed changes are a step towards more first-world practices, noting that creators haven’t always received due credit in the past. For example, the copyright for the Singapura song, Sunny Island (1962), went to a broadcast group rather than the creators.
“David Lim was the lyricist of the version of Singapura that we know in English. We only know the composer’s last name, Van Moring. But what is his first name? And did he write both the lyrics and music? We don’t know. “
Mr Monteiro is worried, however, about the “gut reactions” of the commissioners, who could draft more onerous contracts for the hiring of composers in order to protect themselves against the amendments.
Creators could be forced to sign all kinds of deals, says Soh.
“The problem is, a lot of creative people in Singapore have no idea of the legality of the negotiations, of their rights. Or they’re afraid that if they bring it up, they won’t get the job.”
Presenter-producer Audrey Lim, 34, thinks the proposed changes are good but don’t go far enough.
“With contractual freedom, savvy service buyers can still insist on owning all rights, and with the incredible power asymmetry between creators and artistic workers and service buyers, the former are unable to negotiate in any meaningful way. without being perceived as “difficult.” or worse, dispensable in favor of a more docile creator or artistic worker. “
Ms. Lim, a former nominee for the arts nominee, believes arts institutions commissioning work should be more willing to allow creators to retain copyright in their content, “instead of insisting on l ‘use of old master keys which take away most of the rights of the creators “.
She says that while it is admirable that arts administrators have already made efforts to professionalize the creative scene – for example by providing model contracts – buyers of services do not always appreciate attempts by creators to negotiate contracts. .
“It remains to be seen whether this bias and lack of a level playing field for negotiation will persist even among administrators, whose legal teams will be smarter and more resourced than individual creators and artistic workers and know how to outsource. these newly requested attribution rights or in the event of presumption of ownership.
Some members of the public interviewed by the Straits Times were surprised that the law does not already require creators to be attributed.
Ms. Sherrie Goh, 27, who works for Co., a social space for work and events, says, “I thought that was always a requirement. It’s great that we are finally recognizing the work of the creators.
“I think there needs to be clearer guidelines. Examples need to be given, so people know what they can do and what they cannot do.”