New law on Mr Lee Kuan Yew ‘not aimed at artists or creative work’

MCCY: Intent of law is to prevent use of his name or image in commercial products

A new law to safeguard the name and image of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew from commercial profit is not aimed at restricting artistic or creative work, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) said yesterday.

Such work could include paintings, books, movies, photographs or performances that make use of Mr Lee's name or image, a ministry spokesman said in response to queries from The Sunday Times.

"Such works may be sold for private gain, but they are different from merchandised products for the mass market. Hence they will not be covered under the proposed law," the spokesman said.

"The specific intent of the proposed law is to prevent Mr Lee's image or name from being used in commercial merchandise. Examples are things like chocolate boxes, souvenir coins or medallions and office stationery," she added.

The ministry's clarification comes amid concerns from several quarters and criticism online that the new law could have a chilling effect on artistic expression that features Mr Lee, who died on March 23, aged 91.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong had said last weekend that the law would be changed in response to concerns from the public - shared by the Government - that companies and individuals are trying to profit from Mr Lee's legacy.

He highlighted two principles the Government will be working with: One, the protection would be against the use of Mr Lee's name and image for commercial gain, not works of tribute or for charity. Two, it would not be a blanket ban but a case-by-case approach in which the authorities' approval is required before use.

Yesterday, the MCCY said it will put up a draft Bill and rules for public consultation when ready, after which the Bill has to be passed by Parliament and assented to by the President. It did not give a timeline.

Asked whether the law would cover merchandise or transactions outside Singapore, the ministry said this was something it needed to study further.

News that the law was not aimed at restricting creative work came as a relief to artists like freelance designer Christopher "Treewizard" Pereira, 57, who has been making caricature figurines of Mr Lee that range in size from 12cm to 30cm since 2009.

He told The Sunday Times he was initially worried he might not be able to produce and sell his work under the impending law in spite of his good intentions. He decided to make his figurines out of a love for the country and respect for Mr Lee, he added.

waltsim@sph.com.sg