VPN technology being reviewed as part of proposed changes to Copyright Law

A woman watching programmes with the use of a streaming media player.
A woman watching programmes with the use of a streaming media player.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The legality of virtual private network (VPN) technology, which allows unauthorised content from overseas to be accessed, is being reviewed.

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) has proposed the review as part of a number of wide-ranging revisions it is suggesting to be made to the Copyright Act, last updated in 2004.

In consultation papers launched on Tuesday (Aug 23), MinLaw asked for a review of the current exceptions that allow for circumventions of "technological protection measures", which act like digital locks to restrict the access or use of copyrighted works.

MinLaw did not recommend an outcome.

Under the current law, tertiary educational institutions are allowed to "unlock" short clips of motion pictures to critique them, and libraries are allowed to "unlock" old software to preserve it in an operational state.

The current law is silent on the use of VPN technologies, which can also unlock geographical restrictions on content. For instance, consumers in Singapore have been using VPN know-how to stream movies online meant for overseas markets.

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 geo-blocks could infringe copyright," said Mr Daren Tang, chief executive of Ipos.

Neverthless, Singapore remains a strong supporter of parallel import, which is essentially what VPN allows in the digital world, he added.

MinLaw also proposed that data collation be allowed for data mining to support the growth of the data analytics business sector. Another proposed change: allowing public schools to reproduce and share content on student portals for teaching purposes. The consultation will end on October 24.

"These reviews will further strength our IP (intellectual property) 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.

"IP is not just about law. IP is also about business and innovation," she said, adding that high-value jobs can come out of this sector.

She was speaking at the opening of the 5th annual IP Week@SG 2016 event held at Marina Bay Sands.

In Australia, lawmakers are considering blocking VPN under new copyright laws proposed in March 2015 to counter piracy and the access to content that is blocked in their region.

In Singapore, consumers do not necessarily break any laws for streaming blocked content from legitimate video-streaming sites. Consumers, however, may be breaching these online content service providers' terms of use.

VPN, which extends a private network across a public network, such as the Internet, also has legitimate uses - for instance, securing corporate access to information over the net.

Separately, a graduate programme in IP and Innovation Management with the Singapore Institute of Management University will also be launched here to equip 20 to 25 professionals with IP skills each year over the next three years.