VPN tech being reviewed under Copyright Act

Some consumers here have been using VPN technology to access content from streaming services such as Netflix that is meant for other markets.
Some consumers here have been using VPN technology to access content from streaming services such as Netflix that is meant for other markets. TNP FILE PHOTO

Law could be updated amid concerns over use of such technology to access unauthorised content from abroad

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

The review is part of over a dozen wide-ranging revisions the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) is suggesting to be made to the Copyright Act, which was last majorly updated in 2004.

MinLaw did not recommend an outcome on the use of VPN in the consultation papers released yesterday. But it called for public feedback on whether current rules governing the circumvention of digital locks on copyrighted work need to be updated. These locks restrict access to or use of the content.

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 geographical blocks could infringe copyright," said Mr Daren Tang, chief executive of Ipos. Nevertheless, Singapore remains a strong supporter of parallel import, which is essentially what VPN allows in the digital world, he added.

KEEPING ABREAST OF CHANGES

These reviews will further strengthen our regime and allow it to keep current with technological advances, business needs and societal developments. IP is not just about law. IP is also about business and innovation.

SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR LAW AND FINANCE INDRANEE RAJAH

The law generally does not allow digital locks on copyrighted works to be circumvented. But there are a few exceptions. For instance, tertiary educational institutions can unlock short clips of films to critique them, and libraries are allowed to unlock old software to preserve it in an operational state.

The law is silent on the use of VPN technology for accessing blocked content. Consumers in Singapore have been using it to stream content meant for other markets from legitimate video-streaming sites.

But there is pressure from content publishers to change that.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents more than 1,000 producers and distributors of sound recordings, believes VPN users should not be allowed to circumvent geographical blocks.

"This idea of parallel import is based on pricing alone," said Mr Ang Kwee Tiang, its regional director for Asia. "It is effectively a race to the bottom, forcing Singapore to become an importer of content instead of a producer or distributor of content domestically."

Experts say it is impossible to outlaw VPN, which also has legitimate uses - for instance, securing corporate access to information over the Web. "But the law can clarify that VPNs cannot be used to access certain types of restricted content," said intellectual property (IP) and technology lawyer Jonathan Kok of RHTLaw Taylor Wessing.

IP lawyer Cyril Chua of Robinson LLC said that if the law were to be amended to regulate the source of content, shops selling Android media boxes preloaded with apps for movie streaming could be hit.

Other revisions proposed include legalising data collation for data mining even as analytics becomes increasingly important to economic growth, and allowing public schools to reproduce and share content on websites for teaching purposes. The consultation will end on Oct 24.

"These reviews will further strengthen our 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, speaking at the opening of the fifth annual IP Week@SG 2016 event at Marina Bay Sands yesterday."IP is not just about law. IP is also about business and innovation."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'VPN tech being reviewed under Copyright Act'. Print Edition | Subscribe