What the executors sought

Mr Lee Kuan Yew being interviewed in November 1981.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew being interviewed in November 1981. PHOTO: ST FILE

As executors to Mr Lee Kuan Yew's estate, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang applied to the High Court last September to clarify an agreement their father made in early 1983.

The agreement was over the control and use of oral interviews the late Mr Lee had given to the Government's then Oral History Department in 1981 and 1982.

In their filings, they sought to have the court declare that all rights to the interview transcripts belong to the estate following Mr Lee's death, as is stated under copyright law.

They argued that the wording of the agreement meant that Mr Lee did not intend for the copyright to be limited such that it did not transfer to his estate following his death.

The executors also claimed that the agreement meant that the copyright is retained by the maker, in this case Mr Lee Kuan Yew, even if the transcripts were created as part of a government project.

The executors added that the Official Secrets Act (OSA) was irrelevant to the case, which they claimed was contractual in nature and was about competing interpretations of the agreement.


They argued that the agreement governed the copyright and use of the transcripts and did not make reference to the OSA and that, in any case, the OSA cannot modify the contract terms set out in the agreement, among other things.

Therefore, the executors asked the court to declare that the estate is entitled to use and have copies of the transcript, and that no access to or use by anyone of the transcripts can be granted without the estate's permission.

The executors also asked the court to declare that the Cabinet Secretary, as custodian of the transcripts, has a duty to inform the estate of any requests following Mr Lee's death to access or use them, and if it has granted any such requests without the permission of Mr Lee's estate.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2016, with the headline 'What the executors sought'. Print Edition | Subscribe