Source : Shutterstock.

Law Ministry considering to make VPN illegal through amendments to Copyright Act

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) has proposed to review the legality of Virtual Private Network (VPN) under the Copyright Act.

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

VPN is a network technology that creates a secure network connection over a public network such as the Internet or a private network owned by a service provider. Large corporations, educational institutions, and government agencies use VPN technology to enable remote users to securely connect to a private network.

VPN technology can also unlock geographical restrictions on content, such as, Singapore’s consumers are able to stream movies online meant for overseas markets. And in other countries such as China, consumers will bypass censorship of sites by the Great Firewall of China through the use of VPN services.

The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) recognises that the use of VPN here is somewhat complicated.

Chief Executive of IPOS Mr Daren Tang said, “There are some concerns that bypassing geo-blocks could infringe copyright. Neverthless, Singapore remains a strong supporter of parallel import, which is essentially what VPN allows in the digital world.”

Speaking at the opening of the 5th annual IP [email protected] 2016 event which was held at Marina Bay Sands, Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah said, “These reviews will further strength our IP (intellectual property) regime and allow it to keep current with technological advances, business needs and societal developments.”

Adding that high-value jobs could come out of this sector, she added, “IP is not just about law. IP is also about business and innovation.”

On 23 August, the MinLaw launched a public consultation to gather public feedback on proposed changes to Singapore’s copyright regime, which will run for two months, ending on 24 October 2016.

Ms Indrani stated that the public consultation is a wide ranging review which aims to help creators gain more recognition and practical protection for their works, while providing users with reasonable and easier access to those works.

The aim of the consultation was particularly to see individuals and small businesses come forward and provide their views in this public consultation. Thus it would help the Government take into account all stakeholders’ views so as to improve our copyright regime to better support the creative economy.

However, it is to note that the Ministry did not clearly request for feedback on the use of VPN in its consultation paper. It instead references to VPN using the below wordings,

“.Whether the current list of allowable circumventions of technological protection measures should be retained, and what new allowable circumventions of technological protection measures should be put in place.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership and its impact on copyright enforcement

Singapore is among the twelve Pacific Rim countries which have signed The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). The finalized proposal was signed on 4 February 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand, concluding seven years of negotiations. It is currently awaiting ratification to enter into force.

The 30 chapters of the agreement aim to “promote economic growth; support the creation and retention of jobs; enhance innovation, productivity, and competitiveness; raise living standards; reduce poverty in the signatories’ countries; and promote transparency, good governance, and enhanced labor and environmental protections.”

Wikileaks had released a new draft of the intellectual property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which revealed that the US is pushing for draconian measures on copyright infringement.

The US is also calling for criminal sanctions for copyright infringement, even where the infringement is not being carried out for commercial reasons.

Jeremy Malcolm and Maira Sutton of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said, “If the US gets its way, then criminal penalties will apply even against users who were not seeking financial gain from sharing or making available copyrighted works, such as fans and archivists. Such a broad definition is ripe for abuse.”

And VPN may be a tool that has to be removed in order for enforcement efforts to be easily undertaken by the authorities.