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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)

IPOS Copyright Factsheet

Copyright Factsheet on Copyright Act 2021 from the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) summarises the key changes in the new Act.

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

Content creators are the default copyright owners. However, the content creator 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.

Copyright Protection Period

In general, the copyright protection periods in Singapore are as follows: 

  • Literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works, photographs 
    • Published: 70 years after the author’s death
    • Unpublished: 70 years after creation 
  • Films and anonymous or pseudonymous works - 70 years after the making of the work

Source: IPOS Copyright Fact Sheet 

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

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

Types of Intellectual Property:

  Copyright Industry Designs   Patent  Trademark  Trade Secrets  Geographical Indications
Protection  Copyright only protects way in which ideas are expressed. Copyright subsists in literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works It protects the external appearance of the article or non-physical product. Patent protects inventions. The invention has to be applied to a product or process. A trademark protects the specific, unique name, logo, and symbols pertaining to your products or business brand.  It protects confidential information. Examples of information that may be protected by trade secrets: manufacturing processes, experimental research data, software algorithm,  formulas, recipes  source codes etc Geographical indications are typically used for agricultural products, foodstuffs, wine and spirit drinks, handicrafts, and industrial products. It protects your product from a particular territory.
Registration   Not required. Copyright arises immediately upon creation without registration required. Required,  register through IPOS

Required, obtain through IPOS or international application.

Required, obtain through IPOS or international application.  Not required. Required, register through IPOS
Duration of Protection

- Literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works, photographs: 70 years after the author’s death

- Films and anonymous or pseudonymous works : 70 years after the making of the work

5 years from the date of filing. Thereafter, the registration is to be renewed every 5 years, up to 15 years. 20 years from the date of filing 10 years from the date of filing. Renewable upon expiry.  Not limited in time. It may continue indefinitely as long as the secret is not revealed to the public  10 years from the date of registration. The registration may be renewed upon expiry every 10 years.
Transferring ownership/rights   It can be assigned or licensed. It can be assigned, licensed or mortgaged. It can be assigned, mortgaged or licensed.  It can be licensed or assigned. It can be licensed or assigned. It can't be assigned or licensed to someone outside that place or not belonging to the group of authorized producers.
Remark          Click here for the business and practical consideration for Trade Secret.    



Technology Licensing 

With more and more collaborations among academics and business organisations, there is a growing interest in the transfer of technology to industry. Click here for the introduction to Technology Licensing and tips on successful license negotiations. 

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 or waived by the creators. The term "Copyright Free" often gets misused and a search for copyright free images on the Web, for example, will result in a link to Shuttershock where it seems the images are copyright free. The images are not, however,, and is royalty free and payment is still required.