What is Copyright?

A copyright is an ownership of an intellectual property that is an original creation and has a tangible form. Ideas cannot be copyrighted; and copyright protects only the expression of an idea. Copyright gives the authors of original works an exclusive legal right for a limited term to exploit and control reproduction of these works. Original works include books, paintings, songs, photos and audio-visual items like videos, movies, and TV programmes, and even a film script or a character in a TV show. More specifically, the creator or owner of the original work, protected by copyright, can determine what is to be done or not done with his work, that is, how the work may be adapted, copied, sold, reproduced, etc.

Public Domain and Creative Commons

Intellectual property for which there is no copyright protection is said to be in the public domain. Material created before the development of copyright law is in the public domain; so is material whose copyright has lapsed, usually fifty to seventy years (varies from country to country) after its first creation. It is free for anyone to use, copy or modify materials in the public domain.

When sharing images or material taken from other sources to incorporate into your own work, it is important to check if they are available for use in the public domain or Creative Commons. A copyright owner may release his work into the public domain at any time or he may release it into the Creative Commons. Creative Commons licences are less restrictive than copyright law, and allow the owner to grant permission to others to use his work under certain terms and conditions, without having to give up his copyright.

Online Copyright Issues — Ownership, Infringement and Fair Dealing

We own the copyright when we create original images, clips, and information items. These cannot be shared freely without our permission, especially if these items reside on our own website. On social media and online portals however, some sites may reserve the right to use or redistribute the user's uploads, including posts, videos and photos. Read carefully the terms of use on social media sites, and if you disagree, do not post or join that community.

Besides creating content, users are also actively consuming content like videos and music on the Internet. One key concern is the issue of piracy, that is, whether consumers are downloading their entertainment without paying for it, by going to illegal or file sharing sites. Consumers who download copyrighted movies or music from unauthorised sites are breaking the law. They may be sued by the original owners for copyright infringement, and may be prosecuted under the Copyright Act. Penalties can include a fine and/or imprisonment for more serious offences.

There are many ways for consumers to legally watch movies or listen to music online. In Singapore, you can visit the iTunes store, or any of the music/movie services offered by your Telco or Internet Service Providers.

In certain circumstances, you may use the original creations of others for research, private study, criticism or review, parody and reporting of current events under the fair dealing exceptions in the Copyright Act without the need to seek permission from the owners.