Understanding the Legal Aspects of Live Streaming in Singapore

1. Introduction to Live Streaming

Therefore, this article aims to provide a preliminary understanding of the legal aspects of live streaming Singapore. The article is part of a two-part series. The consecutive article will look into the civil and regulatory aspects of live streaming, namely, intellectual property rights, defamation, harassment, contempt of court, and other security concerns.

With today’s incredible technological advancement and its resulting convenience, catching up on the lives of friends and acquaintances has become an easy feat. In today’s digital era, various forms of live streaming mediums, such as Facebook Live, Instagram Live, YouTube Live, and Periscope, have enabled users to view real-time live videos easily. Not only does it allow immediate communication, it has also generated considerable interest and commercial value. From a legal perspective, the existence of rules and regulations within the live streaming industry is a predictable outcome. One understands that there have to be a set of rules to regulate this oddity in the virtual world so as to ensure that viewers’ interests or society’s interests are not affected adversely. However, being a fledgling industry, there is a certain amount of novelty and unfamiliarity in this field.

1.1. Definition and Scope of Live Streaming

Relevantly, in Singapore, the regulatory authorities have described live streaming according to the types of content that are being delivered via such technology. This includes live streaming from an organizer or promoter, wherein an event is planned and delivered in real time to multiple live viewers over the internet. Such events usually have a designated start time and finish time, and they can vary by genre, for example, sporting events, music concerts, live entertainment or video gaming.

In Singapore, live stream service has been defined as the broadcast and receipt of a ‘virtual package’, where a person in one place can broadcast an event or experience happening in real-time to people located in a different place. From this perspective, live streaming can be distinguished from other activities like simulcasting or video-on-demand. Notably, participants in a live stream or viewer can interact through real-time chatting and commenting functions, and some live streaming platforms also allow individuals or institutions in control of the platform to arrange for the geographical or other restrictions of the live stream.

2. Regulatory Framework in Singapore

2.2. Internet Protocol television and Internet Protocol radio are technically included under the definition of “broadcasting services” under the Broadcasting Act, and the Act also requires that any two or more broadcasting services not of the same category that are provided by any person in any place or places in Singapore, are not to be provided as parts of a single service package, unless provided through a single point of reception at the common place or places.

2.1. The Broadcasting Act carries on from its pre-existing legislation, the Broadcasting and Entertainments Act. It defines “broadcasting service” and “distribute” (i.e. to deliver signals to locations by any means), as well as legislates procedures for licenses and administrative charges related to the provision of broadcasting services, but does not specifically regulate video live-streaming because transmission is not done through the traditional methods like radio waves or satellite.

  1. Broadcasting Act

1.1. The Films Act (“FA”) regulates the making and distribution of films and videos, as well as theatrical performances, “exhibitions” and public entertainment. The Films Act also regulates certain types of performances or films that are exhibitions under the Public Entertainments Act. Under the MDA Act, the MDA has the function to represent Singapore at international festivals and exhibitions devoted to the improvement, development and enhancement of film and video, including documentaries and educational films and videos.

  1. The Film Act (“FA”) and Media Development Authority Act (“MDA Act”)

2.1. Media Development Authority Regulations

The MDA regulations focus on broadcasting and are also applicable to live streaming. They include technical standards for receiving broadcast signals and operational standards for broadcasting facilities. Additionally, the MDA has issued guidelines regarding internet content to clarify the responsibilities of content owners, internet content providers, and network operators. The MDA adopts a light-touch approach, ensuring the protection of media stakeholders’ interests and objectives.

Live streaming in Singapore is subject to regulations set by the Media Development Authority (MDA). As live streaming involves the use of the internet and electronic networks, it falls under the requirements of the Telecommunications Act. The Study of the Law and Regulation (SLAR) aims to provide an overview of the laws and regulations that govern live streaming in Singapore, bringing clarity by organizing and summarizing the dispersed information.

3. Intellectual Property Rights

Video gaming has become an integral part of today’s culture. Since 2013, the value of the gaming industry has out-grossed the box office takings of the film and music industry. Live streaming and the uploading of gameplay footage has become prevalent. YouTube is the world’s largest video-sharing platform, generating over US$4 billion in revenue in 2014. Twitch is another streaming platform that focuses specifically on gaming and has approximately 1.5 million broadcasters that stream live content to over 100 million users per month. These streamers may entertain or educate the audience by demonstrating their gaming skills, undertaking challenges, or simply by interacting with their audience. Despite its popularity, the legality of live streaming has not been considered under Singapore law. This paper is important because streamers in Singapore are at risk of legal exposure when examples of unfair use or defamation occur. They could also inadvertently infringe third-party intellectual property rights, and as it could strengthen the local gaming community, Singapore would benefit from specific standards for live streaming.

In order to understand the legal aspects of Singapore, it may be helpful to first understand the various types of content that can be found on live streaming platforms, and how intellectual property rights are vested in such content. There are four main types of content on live streaming platforms – gameplay videos, in-game animations and graphics, third-party background music videos, and personal background music. It is also important to distinguish between the different types of intellectual property rights involved: gameplay videos are vested in copyright, in-game animations and graphics are vested in copyright or are computer-generated artistic works (in the case of graphics from play or are derived from a computer-generated artistic work), third-party background music videos are also vested in copyright, and personal background music is vested in copyright.

3.1. Copyright and Trademark Considerations

Trademark violations involved are the same as those listed for video. However, with greater limitations in terms of music, it should generally involve trademark pirates and legitimate licensed live-streamers that are engaging in such unethical acts. However, if a live-streamer is involved in the streaming of all three types of infringed music listed, it would, in all probability, be termed an unlicensed illegal live-streaming activity. Trademark holders, as in the case with copyright holders, can also stop public events (including live streaming events) using their intelligence if necessary.

In light of the above legal enactments, website owners and operators should get permission from the copyright owner of the relevant work before they allow such content to be live streamed on their site. It is essential that the website owner and operator understand the principle of direct liability. It is also important that they consider potential secondary liability – could a site be held liable through the actions of the users? When faced with such a question, the three-point test applied to most cases of secondary liability in Singapore should be carried out. The new Copyright Act has made specific provisions to ensure that online intermediaries are treated fairly and not penalized for wrongs which they do not engage in, fundamentally helping to promote technology and innovation in Singapore.

Statute clearly provides that live streaming of content without the authorization of the copyright owner is illegal and infringing copyright. That said, companies and individuals that see their content being hacked may claim that their software is an infringing copy and seize, delete, or destroy the software involved in said live streaming. This legal provision may allow Singapore companies and individuals to better enforce their copyright in this area.

4. Data Protection and Privacy Laws

As a general rule of thumb, organizations are discouraged from implementing overt video analytics surveillance technology and installing surveillance cameras in public areas unless it is demonstrably necessary under their harm or legitimate interest scheme, real-time monitoring is not conducted, disclosure or transmission to 3rd party is avoided, or when these organizations are properly authorized under law to make these processes. This warning has also been echoed by the Personal Data Protection Commission in their annual report in 2018. Hence, over-regulating the general public under the intention of surveillance and tightly controlling surveillance footage should be done with extreme caution as this creates a backlash from the public concerning their rights to privacy and discourages positive innovation, investment in technology, and related welfare that comes with it.

Over the past few years, the Personal Data Protection Act (the “PDPA”) has increasingly been turning heads and attracting attention as the long arms of the law appear to extend to what one is or has been viewing online – even if you feel you are doing so in relative anonymity. In fact, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (“IMDA”) has issued a guide that specifically explains the obligations of organizations under the PDPA when implementing video analytics technology in publicly accessible areas.

4.1. Personal Data Protection Act

Live broadcast of events, such as public performances, exhibitions, and trade shows, may inadvertently capture personal data of attendees when their images and conversation comments are being captured and broadcast to the public online. As such, live streaming obligations under the PDPA need to be considered. Secondly, live streaming feed may include infringing content which would make the live stream infringing. Live streamers who encourage and help consumers to access infringing content may have abetted.

Live streaming as a form of content creation and consumer entertainment has gained popularity in recent years. Many interest groups, from individual entertainers to corporate enterprises, use live streaming as a platform to deliver news, provide commentary, showcase artistic talent, and communicate business-related data to the public. In Singapore, these behaviors are subject to regulations set out in the Public Order Act and the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act when breach of regulations negatively affects public safety and order, or common convenience, peace, and quiet.

5. Challenges and Future Trends

It is the opinion of this author that even though a work-for-hire provision might provide for the sharing of profits in discharge of intellectual property rights and provide some manner of protection for the producer’s contributions to a live streamed work, an infringement of the law may be bound to occur in terms of privacy rights when observing freelancers’ behavior. This is because the problems emanating from the power dynamics when wielded by actors pursuing corporate agendas over those acting in a personal capacity in the stream may be unresolvable within the current paradigm of the law.

Despite live streaming’s increasing relevance to intellectual property and privacy law, there is a paucity of law governing the domain, and current laws appear unsatisfactory in protecting individual privacy and intellectual property rights. The current law is ineffective in addressing the unique nature of live streaming, the problems arising from the production of content with rapid turnarounds, questions of the ownership of content produced in the live streaming process, joint ownership, and the lack of a work-for-hire doctrine. This is because the technology exists beyond the law, resulting in many legal inconsistencies. In addition to juridical limitations, there exist technical and administrative constraints on the ability to effectively regulate live streaming.

5.1. Emerging Technologies and Legal Implications

The new mode of information communications, live streaming, is derived from a complex melange of the Internet and the role of the Internet Service Provider (ISP), the concepts of Sui Generis Database Right protection and abusive conduct under competition law. However, it is not possible to do this without looking into the operation of cable television, direct to home (DTH) satellite and the Internet and its effect on the established regulatory bodies controlling the distribution of television and radio broadcasts in Singapore. With the rapid development of ISP services, broadcasters soon recognized that the use of this particular technology in the saturation of the current market would allow the distribution of value-added material previously unavailable on terrestrial and cable television.

In Singapore, the implications arising from hosting a live streaming broadcast are far-reaching. This is despite the fact that this mode of information communication has only recently gained popularity since the turn of the new millennium. The increased speed of transmission in information users’ homes has been facilitated by the change in broadband channels, allowing data to be transferred via a LAN to media hubs and global switches enabling international broadcast distribution. However, while Singapore is rapidly becoming an important regional hub for trade and communications, legislative controls in many sectors have not kept pace with the emerging technologies. Both traditional and new modes of communication have been placed under the purview of the government, resulting in the fragmented television and radio legislation.

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