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."