Copyright Laws with respect to musical work in Singapore

In Singapore the copyright of creators is protected by way of statutes and precedents but there is no copyright registration authority in the country. This is because in Singapore a creator enjoys copyright protection for his creation as soon as they make the invention and express it in a tangible form. In case of musical work also, it is therefore important for it to be in a tangible form in order to get copyright protection. It can be in the form of melodies expressed in the form of music sheets with notations or sound recordings in the digital form.

Musical work

Musical work includes melodies for which the creators get copyright protection in Singapore. In order to understand the copyright law regarding musical work in Singapore, it is important to first understand the meaning of copy as defined in the Act.

"Copy" with respect to authorial work in case of musical work is defined under Section 41 of the Copyright Act. Section 41(2)(c) of the Copyright Act, 2021 states that copy of any authorial work in the case of a literary, dramatic or musical work occurs when it is reproduced in the form of a sound recording.

This leads to another crucial question as to how a musical work is made and what constitutes copying of a sound recording?

To answer this, Section 16 of the Copyright Act needs to be explained. It deals with a part of this question. Sub-section 2 of Section 16 explains that a literary, dramatic or musical work in the form of sounds embodied in an article or thing is made when the sound is embodied in that article or thing.

Incorporation of a sound in the article or thing is the main criteria for the making of such a work.

Copy of a sound recording is explained under section 44 of the Copyright Act, 2021. Section 44 lays down what constitutes copying of a sound recording. It states that the copy of a sound recording is a record which embodies the sound recording or a substantial part of it. In addition to that, it should be derived either directly or indirectly from the record produced following the creation of the sound recording.

Public performance of musical work

Public performance is an umbrella term which encompasses all the performances where sounds in the recording are heard in public at a physical location. These locations include:

  1. Shops or Shopping Malls
  2. Exhibitions
  3. Cafés, Restaurants or Other Eating Establishments
  4. Concerts
  5. Hotels
  6. Roadshows or Other Promotional Events
  7. Offices or Workplaces
  8. Dinner & Dances

The term public performance having a widely interpretative meaning might raise a question pertaining to the inclusivity of transmission of sound over internet within its meaning. It has to understood that public performance is different from transmitting a sound recording over the internet, such as when a song is streamed in the background of an online video. This, however, does not mean that performance of musical work cannot be done by means of the internet.

Public performance of a musical work can be done either in person in front of an audience or via internet. It is crucial to keep in mind that only in limited circumstances is one permitted to perform a musical work in public.

Section 205 explains one such circumstance. It lays down the condition when public performance of musical work is permitted. It permits the performance of a musical work in public when the students or staff of an educational institution either on the premises or outside of the premises perform the work in the course of the institution's activities.

Another circumstance has been given under Section 296. It permits the performance of a literary, dramatic or musical work if the work is of a religious nature and the performance of the same is in the course of services at a place of worship or any religious assembly.

In addition to that Section 224 also lays down a few conditions as to when performance of musical work in the public is permitted. The conditions are as follows:

(a) the work or film is part of a public collection;

(b) the act is authorised by the custodian of the public collection;

(c) the act is for the purpose of exhibition of a work or film that is held by or on behalf of the custodian of the public collection at any premises that are open to the public with or without a fee

(d) the act is not the sole or main purpose of the exhibition

Making a fair copy of a musical work

Not in all circumstances is the copying of a musical work considered to be done in an unfair manner. But there are a number of conditions that have to be met in order to obtain the permission to make a copy of a literary, dramatic or musical work.

Section 251 deals with such conditions related to broadcasting of the work if the copy is a sound recording or film of the work and is made for the sole purpose of broadcasting the work in circumstances where it would not be an infringement of the copyright of work. In case it is some person other than the one broadcasting the work, the person is supposed to pay the copyright owner an amount agreed between them for the making of the copy or he can undertake in writing to pay the copyright owner the amount that a Copyright Tribunal decides is equitable remuneration for the making of the copy. Within the prescribed time, every copy made under this section should either be delivered to the National Archives with the consent of the Director of National Archives or destroyed.

Section 255 and Section 256 also lay down the conditions for making a copy of a musical work. These conditions are for the simulcasting of work. A person is permitted to make a copy of a musical work or sound recordings if the copy is of a sound recording or film of the work made for the sole purpose of simulcasting the work in digital form and broadcasting the work would not infringe its copyright. It is necessary that the copy is used only

(i) for the purpose of simulcasting the work for which there would be no copyright infringement

(ii) to make further copies for that purpose

And that every copy of the material made under this section is destroyed within the prescribed time.

In cases where a musical work, a sound recording or a recording of a protected performance is heard or seen or both in the public due to a cable programme or a broadcast being received by a person, such display of the performance is public is a permitted use of a literary, dramatic or musical work as per Section 257.

Various provisions in the Copyright Act 2021 lay down the circumstances wherein making a copy of a musical work is considered to be done justly. These provisions are as follows:

  1. For the purpose of research or study: Section 194 provides that replication of musical work for the purpose of research or study is considered to be a fair use in two circumstances. They are as follows:

(a) If the work is an article in a periodical publication

(b) If only a reasonable portion and not more of the work is copied.

  1. Use of material available on the internet for educational purposes: As per Section 204 making an adaptation of a musical work is permitted if the musical work is available on the internet and it is to copied for educational purposes.

Adaptation of musical work is defined under Section 18 of the Copyright Act, 2021 which states that adaptation of musical work is an arrangement or a transcription of the work. Section 297 of the Copyright Act states that where an act in relation to a literary, dramatic or musical work is a permitted use of the work under any provision of this Part, the same act in relation to an adaptation of the work is also a permitted use. If in case a condition applies to a work related to the permitted use, the same applies to both an act done in relation to the work and an act done in relation to its adaptation.

The Copyright Act, mandates the procurement of a license for public performance of a sound recording if a business plays music in the public, in addition to the procurement of a licence for the public performance of the underlying musical scores and lyrics.

Moral rights

There are some moral rights for authors of work. These include the right to be identified as the author of the work, right against false attribution etc. According to the Copyright Law, author of a musical work must be given due credit for his work. Section 372 ensures that a person publishing a work, causing a film or soundtrack of a work to be seen in public, supplying copies of a soundtrack, sound recording or film including the work to the public and doing any act related to the adaptation of work must be identified as the author of the musical work, or a literary work consisting of words intended to be sung or spoken with music.

Expiry of the copyrighted work

The authorial work which is a musical work expires after 70 years of the ending of the year in which the musical work was first made available to the public as per Section 115.


Thus, we can understand that musical work is protected by copyright laws in Singapore. These provisions give exclusive right to the creator to make use of their work barring exceptions. In case someone makes a copy of their work without following the proper procedure the statute imposes a duty on such person to duly compensate the owner for the same. Similar is the case for public performance, the owner has a right of attribution and failure to regard the same imposes a duty on the wrongdoer.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.