Sharpen consumer protection laws

Last week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) raised the issue of "ambush marketing" with Singapore on the possible infringement of Rule 40 of the IOC charter, in relation to opportunistic advertisers who have attempted to associate themselves with Joseph Schooling's success.

Ambush marketing can be simply defined as the unauthorised exploitation by a party of the goodwill of an event at the expense of the event's official sponsors and partners.

It is important for advertisers to know that such activities may also fall foul of the Law of Passing Off. It protects against situations where the goodwill of someone has been appropriated by the misrepresentation of a third party.

We also have the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (Chapter 52A), which prohibits unfair practices, including a situation where one represents that goods or services have a particular sponsorship or approval that they do not have.

Our current Singapore laws are still somewhat lacking in this area.

Clearly, a sincere congratulatory message would not be actionable and can hardly be said to be misrepresenting anything.

Even Rule 40 of the IOC charter may lack any legal bite, as the prohibition ends three days after the closing of the Olympic Games.

Indeed, misrepresentation and unfair practices are nebulous, ambiguous concepts that may be circumnavigated by smart and aggressive advertisers.

Thus, it is timely that the Ministry of Trade and Industry has commenced a public consultation to review the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act ("Shoppers to get more protection from errant retailers"; May 16).

The main recommendations are to improve consumer protection and allow for more effective sanctions against errant traders.

To this end, Spring Singapore will be appointed the administering agency that will be given investigation and enforcement powers.

The Rio Olympics and any such major events provide advertisers with unparalleled marketing opportunities.

It would be good for our current laws to be reviewed and improved to ensure that there are adequate legal protection and sanctions.

It would also serve businesses well to be made aware of what they can and cannot do.

David Chang Cheok Weng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'Sharpen consumer protection laws'. Print Edition | Subscribe