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Copyright Guide

What is Copyright?


Copyright is a collection of rights automatically granted to someone who creates an original work like a text book, a song, a movie, a game, or an app. The copyright owner is granted exclusive rights to reproduce, publish, perform, communicate, and adapt their work.

These rights are granted even if the copyright symbol © does not appear on the work.


(Adapted from the definition by the Copyright Alliance and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore)

Materials protected by Copyright

Copyright protects the expression of ideas in tangible form. In Singapore, an author automatically enjoys copyright protection as soon as they create and express their work in a tangible form. No registration is required to get copyright protection.

The following are protected by copyright law:

  • literary works, e.g. books, articles in journals
  • musical works that are in written format, e.g. sheet music
  • dramatic works, e.g. choreographies
  • artistic works, e.g. drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographs, buildings and models of buildings, works of artistic craftsmanship
  • sound recordings
  • films
  • television and radio broadcasts
  • performances
  • cable programmes

Ownership of Copyright

The original author/creator of a work will own the copyright. However, the copyright holder can sign an agreement giving another party the copyright.

For instance, the author may transfer their rights to a publisher as a condition of publication - in which case the publisher owns the copyright of that work. For example, many journal publishers hold the copyright to the articles they publish.

Another example common in Singapore is where an employer will usually hold the copyright to an employee's work, unless otherwise agreed. 

Copyright Protection Period

The copyright protection periods in Singapore: 

  • published literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works - 70 years after the author’s death
  • works published only after the author’s death - 70 years after the work was first published
  • sound recordings, films, photographs, and performances - 50 years from the work’s release date
  • broadcasts - 50 years from the date of broadcast
  • performances - 70 years from the end of the year of the performance 
  • unpublished works - perpetual 

Note: Changes are expected in 2021 to the duration of copyright protection in the Singapore Copyright Act

Public Domain

Works in the public domain can be freely used, adapted, and built on by everyone without obtaining permission. The following are a few types of work in the public domain: 

  • copyright expires and the work automatically enters the public domain
  • copyright owner deliberately places the work in the public domain
  • copyright law does not protect the work, e.g. inventions and brand names (covered by patents and trademarks instead).

Please note that the issue of public domain is not always clear-cut. For example, George Romero's cult film classic, The Night of the Living Dead,  is in the public domain but the music from the film is not. 

Moral Rights

Moral rights are a set of non-transferrable rights that are normally included within the bundle of rights under copyright. These rights exist to protect the creator for ethical reasons. There are three types of moral rights:

  • right of attribution
  • right against false attribution
  • right of integrity

There is no protection for moral rights under the existing Singapore Copyright Act - the proposed amendments to this act are seeking to address this issue.

Performers and authors of literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works have the right to be identified whenever their work or performance is used. This is known as the Right of Attribution and it lasts for the duration of the copyright protection period.

The moral right of attribution requires, at the very least, that the author be named. 

Intellectual Property


Intellectual Property (IP) is made up of Copyright and Industrial Property.



 - the legal rights given to a person over their creations, and divided into 2 main areas:

Copyright Industrial Property
  • for the protection of the USE of one's work by others
  • for the protection of distinctive signs
    • trademarks protect brands
    • geographical indications, e.g. sparkling wines made outside of the Champagne region in France are not allowed to be called "champagne"
  • for the protection of innovation
    • patents protect inventions
    • industrial designs
    • trade secrets

Royalty Free vs. Copyright Free

Royalty Free is not the same as Copyright Free.

Royalty Free

  • when there is no need to pay royalties or license fees every time a work is used. The SIT Library subscribes to a database of images called 123RF, where the images are royalty free for your use only because the library pays a subscription fee. This image database can be found here

Copyright Free

  • when the work is in the public domain, or the copyright has expired. A search for copyright free images on the Web, for example, will result in a link to Shutterstock where the images are copyright free. The images are not, however, royalty free and payment is still required.