TODAY Online - Govt looks into whether VPN technology should be outlawed

A two-month public consultation was launched on Tuesday by MinLaw and Ipos.

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The authorities are reviewing the legality of virtual private network (VPN) technology, which is popular among Internet users here who use it to, among other things, watch movies online meant for overseas markets or securely access a corporate intranet while being outside their workplace.

The review on whether VPN technology should be outlawed explicitly is among a slew of proposed changes to bring the Copyright Act — which last underwent an overhaul in 2004 — up to date.

A two-month public consultation was launched on Tuesday (Aug 23) by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos).

Currently, the law is silent on VPN technology, which allows users to disguise their computers’ locations to access geo-restricted content. As part of the consultation, the authorities are seeking a review of current exceptions that allow for circumventions of “technological protection measures”, which act like digital locks to restrict the access or use of copyrighted works. Existing exceptions include educational uses of audio-visual works and assistive technologies in e-books.

Explaining the dilemma for policymakers, Ipos chief executive Daren Tang likened VPN technology as a “digital equivalent of parallel imports”.

“In Singapore we have been very strong in supporting parallel imports. Why? Because we need to make sure that our people have access to legitimate goods that are sourced from other countries,” he said.

However, at the same time, the authorities recognise the argument that allowing VPN technology to bypass geo-blocking could be considered a “possible violation” of the regime. “We are asking for the community to come back with perspectives on this issue,” Mr Tang said.

IP lawyers and experts acknowledged the tricky task faced by the policymakers.

Mr Jason Chan, from Amica Law, noted that allowing VPN technology would be in the consumers’ interest as it prevents companies from carving out territories to maximise profits. Nevertheless, allowing the technology would also mean people can access content that is being blocked by regulators or private companies.

Mr Bryan Tan, from Pinsent Masons, said that if VPN technology is to be outlawed, the authorities should not go after those who use it for licit purposes and a distinction has to be made.

Mr Clement Teo, a principal analyst at market research firm Ovum, also pointed out that prohibiting the use of VPN would be similar to a “cat-and-mouse game”. The authorities would need to first identify the set of IP addresses the VPN uses – which are not static and are sometimes masked – before blocking them. And even if these IP addresses are blocked from a certain VPN software, there could still be others, he said.

Other proposed changes to the Act include a new copyright exception which allows teachers and students — provided they are “educating each other” — of non-profit schools to use copyrighted material without the need to seek permission, regardless of the media or platform of instruction. The proposed exception — which is similar to the practice in the United Kingdom and New Zealand — comes as education methods have evolved. More students are learning via online portals while teachers also use various platforms, such as YouTube videos, to educate students.

Another recommendation, for example, is to accord creaters with a new right of attribution, under which they can request credit for their work regardless of whether they own the copyright.

Adding that a review of the Act was long overdue, Mr Tan said the consultation paper covers a wide range of copyright issues and involves a fair number of areas that have not been looked at for some time.

Meanwhile, a new graduate programme in IP and Innovation Management, jointly developed by Ipos and UniSIM, was announced at the opening of the IP Week @ SG 2016 on Tuesday. The practice-based programme aims to train 20 to 25 professionals each year, over the next three years.

Ipos and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency will also be launching an IP Professional Conversion Programme early next year for mid-career professionals.

Source: TODAY Online

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