Govt to use law to protect name and image of Mr Lee Kuan Yew from commercial use

The special commemorative bun that the BreadTalk chain started selling on March 25, 2015 in memory of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
The special commemorative bun that the BreadTalk chain started selling on March 25, 2015 in memory of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. ST PHOTO: FIONA CHAN

SINGAPORE - The Government will use the law to protect the name and image of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew from commercial use and exploitation.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said on Saturday that this move was in response to concerns from the public - which he said the Government shares - that companies or individuals are trying to profit off the founding Prime Minister's name and image.

Mr Lee died in March, aged 91.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a community event, Mr Wong said that the Government is in the early stages of studying how to protect Mr Lee's name and image.

It intends either to expand the Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Act (SAFNA) - which regulates the use of these national symbols - to cover Mr Lee's name and image, or to write a new law.

SAFNA does not currently cover names, and Mr Wong said that his officials are looking to the example of other countries like New Zealand and Australia, where there are legal provisions over the misuse of names.

The list of names to be protected are then separately gazetted, allowing new ones to be added on in the future.

Asked for examples of commercial misuse of Mr Lee's name and image, Mr Wong cited "the company that tried to do the buns," as well as individuals and companies printing t-shirts or creating figurines that could be sold.

During the week of national mourning in March, local bakery chain Breadtalk sold a line of buns called "Lee bu kai ni," loosely translated as "can't bear to leave you," playing on Mr Lee's surname in Mandarin.

Breadtalk pulled the buns shortly after a public outcry, and apologised.

However, Mr Wong said that the use of Mr Lee's image in the design of the widely-used black ribbon of mourning, or in portraits that were sold for charity recently, were examples of what the Government was not opposed to.

"I think there is a very clear distinction between somebody who does it for charitable reasons, somebody who does it to pay tribute without making profit - and an individual or company who is specifically doing it for profit or commercial gain," he said.

But portraits of Mr Lee by Tianjin artist Ren Zhenyu - two of which sold for close to a million dollars earlier this month to raise money for charity - were also sold commercially by the artist's gallery.

"We are not saying it's banned or not allowed," emphasised Mr Wong. "It's just a restriction. Not a blanket disapproval, but approval is required," he added, making clear that the Government is still studying the best way to move forward on the issue.