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    Aug 24, 2016

    Govt wants feedback on VPN access

    THE legality of virtual private network (VPN) technology, which allows unauthorised content from overseas

    to be accessed, is being reviewed.

    The review is part of more than a dozen wide-ranging revisions the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) is suggesting to be made to the Copyright Act,

    which was last majorly updated in 2004.

    MinLaw did not recommend an outcome

    on the use of VPN in the consultation papers released yesterday.

    But it called for public feedback on whether current rules governing the circumvention of digital locks on copyrighted work needs to be updated. These locks restrict access to or use of the content.

    The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos), which had a part in putting together

    the consultation paper, recognises that there are "some complications" surrounding the use of VPN.

    "There are some concerns that bypassing geographical blocks could infringe copyright,"

    said Daren Tang, chief executive of Ipos.

    Nevertheless, Singapore remains a strong supporter of parallel import, which is essentially what VPN allows in the digital world, he added.

    The law generally does not allow digital locks

    on copyrighted works to be circumvented.

    But there are a few exceptions.

    For instance, tertiary educational institutions

    can unlock short clips of films to critique them,

    and libraries are allowed to unlock old software

    to preserve it in an operational state.

    The law is silent on the use of VPN technology

    for accessing blocked content.

    Consumers in Singapore have been using it

    to stream content meant for other markets

    from legitimate video-streaming sites.

    But there is pressure from content publishers

    to change that.

    The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents more than

    1,000 producers and distributors of sound recordings, believes VPN users should not be allowed to circumvent geographical blocks.

    "This idea of parallel import is based on

    pricing alone," said Ang Kwee Tiang,

    its regional director for Asia.

    "It is effectively a race to the bottom, forcing Singapore to become an importer of content instead of a producer or distributor of content domestically."

    Experts say it is impossible to outlaw VPN, which also has legitimate uses - for instance, securing corporate access to information over the Web.

    "But the law can clarify that VPNs cannot be

    used to access certain types of restricted content," said Jonathan Kok, intellectual property (IP) and technology lawyer at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing.

    IP lawyer Cyril Chua of Robinson LLC said if the law was to be amended to regulate the source of content, shops selling Android media boxes preloaded with apps for movie streaming could be hit.

    Other revisions proposed include legalising

    data collation for data mining even as analytics becomes increasingly important to economic growth, and allowing public schools to reproduce and

    share content on websites for teaching purposes.

    The consultation will end on Oct 24.

    "These reviews will further strengthen our regime and allow it to keep current with technological advances, business needs and societal developments," said Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah, speaking at the

    opening of the 5th annual IP Week@SG 2016

    event at Marina Bay Sands yesterday.

    "IP is not just about law.

    "IP is also about business and innovation."