WhyItMatters

Reviewing VPN concerns

Virtual private network (VPN) has been a contentious piece of technology here for years.

Content publishers are unhappy that consumers here use the technology to access blocked content meant for overseas markets, even though many paid for the content. VPN has become more easily available since 2012, with local firms ViewQwest and MyRepublic bundling the service with their fibre broadband plans.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Law called for public feedback, hoping to update the Copyright Act, which was last updated significantly in 2004.

It wants to know whether current laws governing the circumvention of digital locks on copyrighted work need to be updated. These restrict access to or use of the content, and can be circumvented by technologies, including VPN. The ministry did not recommend an outcome on the use of VPN in its consultation papers. But the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, which had a part in putting together the consultation paper, recognised that there were concerns that bypassing geographical blocks could infringe copyright.

 

So now, it is up to proponents and opponents of VPN to convince the ministry about the level of clarity Singapore's Copyright Act should have on its use. The Act, as it is worded now, is silent on whether using VPN technology to access blocked content is legal, even though the law principally prohibits circumvention.

VPN has legitimate uses - for instance, securing corporate access to information over the Web - and it would be impossible to ban it.

In April, the Australian government said it is not an infringement of copyright for consumers to evade geographical blocks. Ms Karen Chester, commissioner with the Productivity Commission, said: "Making copyright material more accessible and more competitively priced online, and not geoblocking, is the best antidote to copyright infringement." Content publishers may disagree.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2016, with the headline 'Reviewing VPN concerns'. Print Edition | Subscribe