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Criminal Charges for Copyright Infringement in Singapore

The criminalization of copyright infringement in Singapore has claimed its first victim in an interior design firm. The company PDM International was charged with using 51 pieces of illegal Microsoft, Adobe and Autodesk software worth an estimated S$ 50,000.

The amendments to the Copyright Act in January 2005 made copyright infringement for a commercial advantage by use of pirated software a criminal offence, which in turn enables the police to raid premises and act against companies suspected of using pirated software and bringing charges in Court.

Prior to this amendment, owners could only bring a civil action against the infringers and claim damages and an injunction. Although the burden of proof is lower in civil cases, the costs and time of civil proceedings was discouraging. These amendments which provide up to six months’ jail for company directors and employees who are responsible for the illegal software, were implemented as part of the Singapore Free Trade Agreement with the United States and they now give copyright owners greater flexibility in action.

The police raids in this case came about due to information given by an employee or former employee of the company to the Business Software Alliance (BSA) which in turn tipped off the police which carried out the raid in September 2005. BSA which offers rewards of up to S$20,000 to informants reportedly receives 30 to 40 tips per month about companies using pirated software.

The next step for copyright owners after a successful prosecution will be to file a civil suit to claim damages, which case would be easily won. Ultimately the amendment of the law and this case sends out a serious deterrent message to would-be infringers.