Singapore starts making its copyright law fit for the digital world; others need to follow its example

The Walled Culture blog is principally about the ways in which outdated copyright is preventing the full potential of the digital world to be realised.  As such, its posts tend to be rather critical.  Happily, there are signs that some countries are beginning to realise that their copyright law needs to be radically revised, and are taking the first steps towards that goal.

Recently, we wrote about developments in Nigeria, aimed at modernising its laws with expanded copyright exceptions.  Singapore is further ahead.  As Infojustice explains, recent legislation there  brings in a new exception for certain key computational activities:

The Copyright Act 2021 includes a new exception for computations uses including text and data mining, and the training stage of machine learning. While there was previously no specific exception for computational uses, Singapore’s broad fair dealing exception may have offered some protection. The new exception provides certainty – it explicitly protects computational uses of lawfully acquired, non-infringing works. Works used under this exceptions may not be used for any purpose other than computational analysis. They can be shared with research collaborators. Private contracts cannot restrict this new right.

Including such an exception should be a minimum requirement for any copyright law that hopes to keep pace with developments in the digital world.  And yet many countries lack clarity on this point, which inevitably causes researchers to hesitate before carrying out text and data mining, or machine learning.  This, in its turn, is likely to slow down progress in these important fields.  Singapore’s new law also improves on the exception for educational activities:

The previous law was written to allow educational uses of printed materials, and it was unclear to what extent it applied to online works. The new law clarifies that teachers and students can use freely available online materials for educational purposes, including home-based education. The works must be communicated over a network that is only accessible to the teachers and students.

Singapore’s previous copyright law provided a broad “fair dealing” right that allowed a range of general uses.  The title of this exception has now been changed from “fair dealing” to “fair use.” That might seem a trivial change, but it’s significant.  Fair dealing rights are, in general, more limited than fair use ones.  The adoption of the latter term is further confirmation that Singapore’s new Copyright Law is moving in the right direction, and aims to provide greater freedoms for the general public, rather than fewer, as has so often been the case in this sector.

Featured image by Unwicked

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