Mr Leong Mun Wai: To ask the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (a) with regard to the case of an Indian composer plagiarising the song entitled “Count on Me Singapore”, what actions has the Ministry taken to protect Singapore’s copyright; and (b) what is the policy stance of the Government towards individuals who infringe on Singapore’s national symbols and songs, whether for commercial gain or otherwise.
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: To ask the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (a) whether the Ministry regularly checks the media and the Internet for possible infringements of our national symbols; (b) how many cases of copyright infringement have been uncovered to date and how were they dealt with; and (c) whether there are any plans to enhance the protection of intellectual property rights for our national symbols.
Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law:
- Sir, our principal consideration, when addressing questions as to the use of copyright in our national songs and symbols, is to ensure that we protect our ownership and interest in our national songs and symbols, as well as to promote the dignified use and respectful use of them.
- To address Mr Leong Mun Wai’s question about the actions the Ministry has taken to protect Singapore’s copyright in the case of a composer plagiarising the song “Count on Me Singapore”, let me set out details of this incident.
- We first received feedback that the song, “We Can Achieve”, was featured in several videos, some of which were of school children, apparently from India, singing the song. This song was almost identical to “Count on Me, Singapore”, save for minor differences, such as replacing the word ‘Singapore’ with ‘India’ and a line in the song which goes, “we are told no dreams to hold that we can strive for”. In the videos, the students appeared to be expressing their love for their country, and the song was not disrespectfully treated. The publisher of the song “We Can Achieve” subsequently came forward to acknowledge that the song seemed to be substantially copied from “Count on Me, Singapore” and apologised for it, as well as removed it from their platforms. We did not believe that there was any ill will or malice intended, and hence accepted this apology.
- Shortly after, one Mr Joey Mendoza, he then alleged that he, in fact, was the one who wrote the song “We Can Achieve” in 1983. This was an untenable assertion, given that this song, as I mentioned earlier, was practically identical to “Count on Me, Singapore”. If his claim was right, it would be a direct affront to our own ownership and interest in the national song “Count on Me, Singapore”.
- We thus pressed Mr Mendoza to substantiate his claims. If he could not, then he should withdraw them. We were prepared to initiate legal proceedings, if necessary, to protect our position. At the same time, we also undertook extensive fact-checking in Singapore and in India, to refute Mr Mendoza’s claims. We obtained confirmation of contemporaneous and documentary evidence of the writing of the song “Count on Me, Singapore”. Mr Jeremy Monteiro, a respected musician and Cultural Medallion recipient, was witness to the events at the material time contemporaneously. Members might have read his account in the news, of how he worked alongside Mr Hugh Harrison when Mr Harrison composed the song in 1986.
- In response to our requests for proof of his claims and to substantiate his position, Mr Mendoza then changed his position. He subsequently withdrew his claims. He admitted that he had no evidence to support his claims, and confirmed the following in writing:
a. That he unconditionally and irrevocably withdraws all claims to the lyrics and music of the song “We Can Achieve” which he recognises is similar to “Count on Me, Singapore”;
b. That he had informed all his associates and networks of the above and also instructed all social media platforms to pull down the song “We can Achieve” with immediate effect; and
c. That he had no intention of attacking the integrity or professionalism of Mr Harrison, the original composer of “Count on Me, Singapore”.
- Mr Mendoza’s admissions leave no doubt that “Count on Me, Singapore” was written by Mr Harrison and that the rights and ownership in the national song remain with us. Mr Mendoza also wrote to us to confirm that the song “We Can Achieve” has been taken down from known networks and platforms. We have thus let the matter rest on this basis.
- Sir, our national songs hold a special place in the hearts of Singaporeans. MCCY takes any challenge to our proprietary rights and interests in our national songs and symbols very seriously, and we will take the necessary steps to protect them. The current legal position for our national songs and symbols includes the Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem legislation, SAFNA as we call it in short, as well as the Copyright Act. The legislation around the use of the national symbols and the Government’s stance on copyright of the national songs are intended to prevent misuse that might diminish or denigrate the standing of such symbols and songs. At the same time, we should not take umbrage at every such use, and resort to legal remedies each time. A careful judgment is made in each case, as to whether and if so what, action is to be taken, along the considerations which I have outlined above.
- To Mr Gerald Giam’s question on whether the government regularly checks for possible infringements of our symbols: The Ministry monitors reports on the use of the national songs and symbols by the media, does online sensing, and also takes public feedback. Our symbols have generally been treated with respect and dignity. There have been rare cases of flag-burning, which usually involved other forms of misconduct, and were dealt with swiftly under the appropriate regulations in the Penal Code.
- Mr Giam may be aware that MCCY first announced in September 2020 that it had initiated a review of the rules governing the National Symbols. We are also looking into whether there is a need to enhance IP protection for our Symbols. Honouring and respecting our symbols, however, is not something that is achieved only by legal regimes or protecting copyright; we must also cultivate and sustain the strong connection and respect that Singaporeans feel for symbols and songs. All of us have a part to play in upholding our symbols and passing them down to future generations. And to that end, MCCY has convened a citizens’ workgroup on our national symbols to seek the public’s feedback and views on this review, because these symbols indeed belong to all of us. I would like to take the opportunity to thank Singaporeans who have invested their time and energy to participate in the workgroup as well as those who have responded to our survey on our national symbols. Thank you, Mr Speaker.