Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Pimary Six Day of Reckoning

If you have a copy of today's Straits Times (25/10/2005) read the article by Assoc. Professor Teo Chung Piaw on page 23, entitled 'The Primary Six day of reckoning', where she suggests that the matching algorithm used by the NRMP should be adopted by the Singapore Ministry of Education for use in the allocation of seconday schools to primary six students.

This is an excellent idea; the professor is absolutely accurate in her characterization of the current new system as the progenitor of unnecessary stress for primary six students. Indeed, the match algorithm manages to put this stress on the individual schools instead - but they are in a better position to handle it.

I suspect that this will not reduce the necessity for multiple entrance exams, but unless the PSLE itself is massively overhauled, this will be a requirement in any case. Also, given the recent rate of change of MOE policy, changing the policy for next year should not be an issue.

For more information about the matching algorithm used by the NRMP, click here.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Oops. I should have looked at my "sister" site.

I must say that the best coverage of the third seditious blogger is singabloodypore. I had neglected to look at that site. And when I say "best coverage," I mean that Steve has kindly copied all the relevant news articles. Hurrah!

The best information about the reaction of the blogosphere is (as always) at Singapore Angle.

Sedition Act to be Reviewed

The Government is reviewing the Sedition Act to see if it needs to be strengthened or renewed.

Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng, who is also the Home Affairs Minister, said the Government had to take anyone who tries to stir racial, religious hatred against one another very seriously.

Mr Wong said: "The MHA would be reviewing, together with the Law Ministry and the Attorney-Chambers on the various legislations that we have, that will deal with situations where racial, religious hatred will be incited, where invocation of acts of terror, for example, can be said in the net or anywhere."

He said the penalty in the Sedition Act might have been outdated, as it was last reviewed many years ago.
[Source: Channel NewsAsia, 17/09/2005]

Singapore reviewing the Sedition Act is scary, particularly because of the accompanying comments. While I suppose "penalty in the Sedition Act might have been outdated" is neutral, and means that the penalty may be increased or decreased, the latter seems unlikely - apparently a maximum sentence of a fine or S$5000 and 3 years imprisonment is not particularly scary. Taken together with the first portion of the statement, that " the Government had to take anyone who tries to stir racial, religious hatred against one another very seriously," things don't look good.

Of course, it might that Singapore is bowing to "pressure" to charge suspected criminals under appropriately named Acts.

In any case, because Singapore really respects the rule of law, these three bloggers (and anyone else who makes racist/seditious comments before the law actually changes) can take heart that their maximum sentence will be a fine or S$5000 and 3 years imprisonment. Of course, because the courts have discretion within that range, it makes it rather likely that something near the maximum sentence will be imposed.

All links in this post (apart from the CNA link) point to Mr Wang... he's got the best coverage of the third seditious blogger available. [and Mr. Wang - you know that you can change your web address if you want to right? I know you think Commentary Singapore is rather boring, so why don't you go ahead and do that :D]

Thursday, September 15, 2005

MP3's and Singapore Law

Update: See conclusion, before endnotes.
Q. How do I know whether the songs in my computer or MP3 player are legal?

A. If you didn't buy it from a legal site like Soundbuzz, it is probably illegal. Plus, when you buy a CD, the rights only apply to the CD; this means you cannot rip songs out and make them into MP3s for your player.

Generally, it's advisable to check the terms and conditions of use before you make a copy of the songs. -- SOURCE: INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY OFFICE OF SINGAPORE"
[Source: Mr. Brown (blog), 25/08/2005]

Of course, this was first published in the Straits Times around that date. Mr. Brown says that it's originally from the IPOS site, but I could not find it with a search for "rip".

In any case, while IPOS is not wrong, it's not necessarily right, either. This is simply the conservative approach. It's likely that the terms & conditions of that kanYeWest album you just bought did not authorise you to take any actions except to listen to the CD. Copying the CD into mp3 format is undoubtably copying, and therefore you have to fall into one of the defences - this is basically called fair dealing.

Traditionally, Anthony Lim is correct when he says: "the fair use defence in Singapore is limited to very narrow circumstances (reporting news, private study etc)" However, in Singapore the term which has traditionally been used is fair dealing rather than fair use, ("fair dealing" is the term used by the UK, "fair use" is used for the same type of defence in the US) and as a result of the Singapore-US FTA there have been significant changes to copyright law in Singapore.

One of these was the Copyright (Amendment) Act 2004. 1 This Act created a new section 109 in the Copyright Act, which came into force on 1/1/2005, and reads as follows:
109. —(1) Subject to this section, a fair dealing with an audio-visual item for any purpose other than a purpose referred to in section 110 or 111 shall not constitute an infringement of the copyright in the item or in any work or other audio-visual item included in the item.

(2) The purposes for which a dealing with an audio-visual item may constitute a fair dealing under subsection (1) shall include research and study.

(3) For the purposes of this Act, the matters to which regard shall be had, in determining whether a dealing with an audio-visual item, being a dealing by way of copying the whole or a part of the audio-visual item, constitutes a fair dealing with the audio-visual item for any purpose other than a purpose referred to in section 110 or 111 shall include —

(a) the purpose and character of the dealing, including whether such dealing is of a commercial nature or is for non-profit educational purposes;

(b) the nature of the audio-visual item;

(c) the amount and substantiality of the part copied taken in relation to the whole audio-visual item;

(d) the effect of the dealing upon the potential market for, or value of, the audio-visual item; and

(e) the possibility of obtaining the audio-visual item within a reasonable time at an ordinary commercial price.

[Note: Sections 110 and 111 confirm the traditional "criticism", "review" and "reporting news" exceptions.]
This is what will most probably have to be interpreted by the courts if a case of a person ripping a CD he owns into a digital format for his personal use ("simple CD ripping") comes before it today. The portion which we're most concerned with is s109(3), which sets out five factors which the court is to give consideration to. You will note that (a) to (d) are taken almost verbatim from the US Code 2 - (e) is novel. While there does not seem to have been any case involving simple CD ripping, it was recently said by MGM3 in MGM v. Grokster that "at the time the iPod was invented, it was clear that there were many perfectly lawful uses for it, such as ripping ones own CD and storing it in the iPod."

However, the reasons behind that are probably more practical than legal. Prior to this new section 109, it would have been very difficult to fit simple CD ripping into any one of the categories of fair dealing (research, study, criticism, review, news) and the ground was ripe for recording companies to complain that ripping mp3's in Singapore was in contravention of copyright. However - they didn't. This is especially true because a Singaporean firm (Creative Technology) was in fact the first company in the world to create a hard disk based mp3 player. (The Creative Nomad Jukebox; of course, the iPod has eclipsed it, and the newest iPod nano sets new standards.)

Quite apart from the idea that companies might now be prevented from claiming such a right4, the new section 109 makes it harder for them to claim that simple CD ripping contravenes copyright. In my opinion, (a) and (b) allow for simple CD ripping, while (c), (d) and (e) argue against it; but the courts decision is not some mathematical formulation, and I feel that it would be most inequitable if the courts did decide in favour of recording companies. Indeed, possibly the highest barrier against bringing such a suit would be the public relations nightmare it would create.

In any case, I think what might be more of an issue is the new Part XIIIA of the Copyright Act, which has anti-circumvention provisions similar to the much ballyhooed US-DMCA. In brief, this would mean that if a CD was manufactured such that it was not possible to rip it in the usual fashion, it would be illegal to rip it because to do so would be to circumvent the technological measure used prevent ripping. Of course, recording companies don't seem to be releasing corrupted CDs much any longer.

In summation, IPOS does not know if simple CD ripping is actually illegal, contrary to their claims, because until a case comes before the court, both opinions might be valid and nobody knows. So - Rip on! (Only if you want to, this does not constitute legal advice, please make your own decision and go and consult a laywer or call IPOS or mail IPOS or something.5)

Update - 18/09/2005: (Due to a comment by Ivan) I suspect I might have been a little unclear - in each case above, when I referred to a recording company bringing a suit, I was referring to the process in which a recording company might complain to the authorities that an individual is ripping mp3s, and the Prosecutor then deciding to prosecute on the basis that such act is illegal; being an offence according to the Copyright Act. As Ivan rightly pointed out, if the terms and conditions of an album prohibit simple ripping, then you will be in violation of your agreement with the recording company.

I would suggest, however, that being in violation of your agreement with the recording company would have almost no legal effect in the case of simple ripping - a recording company would be mad to bring a civil action in Singapore, because damages would be minimal and even if costs were awarded it is likely that the recording company would be out of pocket by a substantial amount. Unless, of course, they want to make an example.

Also, I just had a peek at the offences under the Copyright Act, (section 136, I hadn't before) and in general they all require some element of trade; unless the extent of the infringment is significant (section 136(3A)). Unfortunately, simple ripping means that the entire work will be copied, so it may be regarded as such. The maxium penalty applicable is a fine of $20,000 and 6 months jail.

End Notes:
1. Singapore seems to have recently decided that suffixing a year to the names of Acts is a good idea. I agree, because then it makes it easier to distinguish which particular Act you're referring to; although I'll admit in most circumstances it qualifies as unnecessary veribiage. Much like this note! In case you're -really- interested, section 27 of the Copyright (Amendment) Act 2004 is the one which repeals and re-enacts section 109 of the Copyright Act.

2. While the new section 109 is most similar to Title 17, Chapter 1, § 107; it must be noted that for a long time those factors (except (e)) were used in section 35 of the Singapore Copyright Act to determine if something was "research or study". However, because it had to be "research and study," the factors were of far more limited use than they are today.

3. This was said by MGM; and while the author of the piece I linked suggests that MGM will be bound to this, that's probably true only for proceedings resulting from MGM v. Grokster.

4. This is the legal concept of estoppel, but for it to apply in these circumstances would probably require some judicial innovation.

5. I suppose I should support soundbuzz.com, but really, the real problem with almost all mp3 download sites nowadays is that their quality leaves something to be desired. Except perhaps AllofMp3.com, but the legality of that site is... questionable.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

World Bank: Singapore is second easiest place to do business

THE WORLD Bank has released data and tables showing how easy it is to do business in different countries around the world.

Entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone are likely to have a problem because if you pay all the business taxes you ought to, it will consume 164 per cent of your company's gross profit. ...

A league table of countries reveals that New Zealand is the easiest place to do business, followed by Singapore, the US, Canada and Norway. The UK is number nine in the table...

All this, and a heap of very useful information cann be found on the World Bank's Doing Business site.

[Source: The Inquirer, 14/09/2005]

The World Bank's Doing Business link for Singapore is here. I think that it highlights one key areas where Singapore can improve - Singapore needs a public credit rating agency - Singapore has none, and the private ones only cover 39% of Singaporeans.

It might also be nice if the "Difficulty in Firing" index was something other than 0. 0 is the best, but... Comparatively, the score for the region is 23.3 and the score for OECD countries is 27.3.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Anonymity and your IP address

As I'm sure everyone is well aware, going online means that you require an IP address. For the average user, this means that they are required to purchase an internet account from an ISP (in Singapore, mainly either Pacific Internet, Singnet or Starhub).

These ISPs then, can track where you go and what you do. Unless, of course, you use an independent proxy server or an anonymizer, and even in those cases if they're -really- interested in you they can still look at the data packets you send to figure out what you're doing. The only way prevent your ISP from figuring out what you're doing is to additionally encrypt all the data. Anoymizer actually povides such a service, albeit at a price.

However, most people aren't going to be paying for that, (and won't have looked around for free options) and therefore whenever someone is caught doing something naughty on the internet, with it's oh-so-thin layer of anonymity dust surrounding him, the immediate reaction is: "Oh! The ISP's are in CAHOoOTs! with the GAHMEN!"

An example of this is the recent seditions blogger case. I'm quoting elia diodati here (look under the second heading): "Yet how on earth did the police find out their true identities? Did the accused blatantly advertise their real names online, or was some kind of cyberskullduggery successful in tracing down their IP addresses? ISPs are supposedly only allowed to reveal such data with the sanction of court action, so the idea of a liaison with GLCs is unlikely, albeit not inconceivable."

While accusing the ISPs might be accurate for something like file-sharing, in the present situation this is not necessary. Apply Occam's Razor.

Taking the more difficult case first, the forum site was www.doggiesite.com. Getting an IP address would already require the support of the forum moderator, and apart from that the moderator would almost definitely have a working e-mail address. Even if that was insufficient, perhaps the other members of the forum had information regarding the identity of their fellow.

All the above points apply in the case of www.upsaid.com, except that because that service is not free (since Mar 23) and so there might be an additional credit card (or other) trail via paypal. I somehow don't think that blogger sent money by post to Belgium.

Having said all that, I would also note that it is true that "The ISP's are in CAHOoOTs! with the GAHMEN!"

I suspect that the idea that "ISPs are supposedly only allowed to reveal such data with the sanction of court action" is related to the much publicized RIAA cases. Note that here it is the State which is bringing the complaint. (As opposed to the RIAA which is a private citizen.) Insofar as any ISP is required to obey the laws of the jurisdiction, the ISP is obliged to assist as far as it is able.

Stahub, for example, states this explicitly in it's Info-communication Services General Terms & Conditions at 24 (b): "We may use the Customer Information for the purposes of: planning, provisioning and billing for the Services; managing bad debt and preventing fraud; facilitating interconnection and inter-operability between Service Providers; rendering assistance to law enforcement, judicial, governmental or regulatory agencies and/or complying with any regulatory requirements imposed by IDA authorising the use of Customer Information."

In conclusion, note the many ways your information may be revealed online. Remember that when you sign up for a forum site, even if you're using the full anonymizer service, your e-mail is still with the moderator! And that it's very easy to unintentionally leave details of who you actually are online.

The Seditious Bloggers - The Real Story?

The backstory according to the report is that on June 14, ST Forum Page published a letter asking if "cab companies allowed uncaged pets to be transported in taxis, after she saw a dog standing on a taxi seat next to its owner." The concern is that the animals pay "drool on the seats or dirty them with their paws"--and for most of the Muslims in Singapore (which subscribe to the Syafie school of thought on the issue), they are prohibited by religion "to touch dogs which are wet, which would include a dog's saliva".

Enter the duo Nicholas Lim Yew, 25, and Benjamin Koh Song Huat, 27. The first "allegedly responded [to the Forum Page letter] by twice posting anti-Muslim remarks on an online forum for dog lovers, www.doggiesite.com," allegedly criticising "certain aspects of Islamic law." The latter "was said to have made similar racist comments on his blog, Phoenyx Chronicles, on www.upsaid.com on three occasions."
Interesting. Note that there may be further updates to this post by HuiChieh Loy. If you have a look at the links above (all courtesy of Singapore Angle), it appears that the object and intent of the posts was racist in nature, and as such I think this issue is done; all that really remains is to see what was actually said (no doubt this will be stated in court).

[Source: Singapore Angle (blog), 12/09/2005]

Monday, September 12, 2005

Re: The Sedition Act

Miyagi and Singapore Ink have suggested that the relevant definitions (see below) of seditious tendency in the seditious blogger incident are "ambiguous and nonstandard" or that "there are a variety of things you could do on your blog that might be construed as an act with a seditious tendency."

Part of the problem might be that I only cited the portions which seemed relevant to the details at hand; in full, s3(1) of the Sedition Act reads:

3. —(1) A seditious tendency is a tendency —

(a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government;

(b) to excite the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure in Singapore, the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter as by law established;

(c) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Singapore;

(d) to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore;

(e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.
I think it can be safely be said that these are, in general, reasonably clear. Whether they are non-standard requires a study in comparative laws which I can't be bothered to do, but Miyagi helpfully has stated (and given examples) that Singapore is not alone in enacting anti-racism laws. So we only have s3(1)(d) left.

This is what Miyagi is referring to when he says that there is a huge risk of writing something which may be regarded as seditious under the Act. He further suggests that even the anti-racism portions be expunged from this statue - "Enact an anti-racial vilification law, fellas. Leave the Sedition Act for specific seditious acts against the State."

I humbly suggest that this is unnecessary, for the following reasons:

1. Sedition is generally defined as an act against the state; Singapore is in a specific position (in terms of racial structure, geographical location, etc.) which makes racial harmony of utmost importance, and it is obvious that any disruption might be fatal.

2. Parliament has better things to do - I could name 10 other statues which need more clarification (or could do with recodification).

3. Related to point 2 - this is basically just labelling; perhaps it is a public relations issue, but reading anything more than the bare facts of the seditious blogger incident makes it clear that Singapore is not using it's Sedition Act in the supression of free speech.

The only problem left, therefore, is whether you or I could be rais(ing) discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens or residents of Singapore via our eloquent discourses upon the nature of the universe (and other peripheral matters). The answer to this is pretty simple - when is the last time anything anyone said qualified under this heading? (and remember the exceptions, in s3(2), see my previous post)

Indeed, having s3(1)(d) in the Sedition Act instead of the Discontent or Disaffection Act might even help; surely something which is considered to raise discontent or disaffection would have to be similar in at least some respects to the other limbs of s3(1).

Two bloggers charged under Sedition Act

For the first time in Singapore, two bloggers have been charged under the Sedition Act with making racist remarks.

Twenty-five-year-old Nicholas Lim Yew faces two charges and 27-year-old Benjamin Koh Song Huat faces three. A subordinate court was told that both their blogs had racist content, which sparked off a heated discussion online.

The charges read that Lim had, on 16 and 17 June 2005, posted racist remarks on a web forum.

Koh was alleged to have done the same on 12, 15 and 17 June on another website.

In doing so, they are alleged to have committed an act which had a seditious tendency.
Another singaporean blogger, Coybow Caleb says: "The Intarweb is a public place, and as such if you have nothing nice to say then shut the hell up." No other singaporean blogger seems to have commented upon this as yet.

For my part, I have no idea what the comments were, but I can bring you through the legislation: (irrelevant portions deleted)

s4 of the Sedition Act (the "Act") states that any person who to does any act which has a seditious tendency; utters any seditious words; or prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction for a first offence to be fined up to S$5,000, or jailed up to three years, or both.

s3(1) of the Act defines seditious tendency as a tendency to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore; or to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.

The bloggers might be saved by s3(2), which states that (this is set out in full) any act, speech, words, publication or other thing shall not be deemed to be seditious by reason only that it has a tendency
(a) to show that the Government has been misled or mistaken in any of its measures;
(b) to point out errors or defects in the Government or the Constitution as by law established or in legislation or in the administration of justice with a view to the remedying of such errors or defects;
(c) to persuade the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure by lawful means the alteration of any matter in Singapore; or
(d) to point out, with a view to their removal, any matters producing or having a tendency to produce feelings of ill-will and enmity between different races or classes of the population of Singapore,
if such act, speech, words, publication or other thing has not otherwise in fact a seditious tendency.
I'm sure that in the course of time someone will point to what exactly these seditious comments are: except that they might have already been deleted, because under s4 of the Act it is also an offence to publish or reproduce (see above). If I owned the site that comment was pasted on, and in view of the charges against the commentees, I would delete the comment as soon as possible.

Of course anyone who reproduces the comments of those charged are probably saved by S3(2) of the Act.

[Source: Channel NewsAsia, 12/09/2005]

Singapura This Week

Singapura This Week covers all activities that happen around Singapore. More importantly we get to know but the not so well publicised events which are fun and interesting.
That sounds great. Unfortunately, a blog format really does not do justice to the site, because it makes it AWFULLY difficult to find information. I heartily recommend that they check out the CMS being using by tomorrow.sg, Drupal: The basic installation of this has an events calendar which would suit their needs perfectly.

[Source: Tomorrow.SG (meta-blog), 12/09/2005]

Singapore Policy Wiki

This wiki hopes to aggregate the diverse opinions of people who wish to offer policy proposals for Singapore, so that readers can compare and decide for themselves which policies they think would be best for Singapore's future.

Emphasis mine. This is a good idea in theory, and indeed if properly fleshed out it has to potential to add true value (to Singapore as a nation), but I think it does suffer from a chicken-egg issue, which might be systemic because of the platform chosen. The chicken-egg issue is that there is no impeutus for submission, because it is unknown. This is compounded by a lack of recognition for participation - it is a wiki and hence serially anonymous.

This model has worked in the past, but with a far larger target audience. Time will tell.

[Source: Wannabe Lawyer (blog), 18/08/2005]

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Singabloodypore in Singapore!

Steve McDermott has indicated in his latest post that he is in Singapore, "having passed through immigration freely."


In other news, Steve's last post is odd: he posts information that Yap Keng Ho has filed a police complaint against MediaCorp, and cites Agence France Presse as the source. A google search, however, uncovers no such Agence France Presse release, but only a couple of interested blogs. This is especially wierd considering that sources such as news.yahoo.com publish AFP releases. (Searching news.yahoo.com was equally useless; for 'Yap Keng Ho' I found three irrelevant hits.)

Maybe it was censored from the InTArWeB!

Thomas Friedman: Singapore has advantage in 'flat' world

"You are blessed that you have no natural resources, which is the single best advantage in the flat world. You have what I call a very high coefficient of flatness. The flatter your country is, the more you have to build up your people, their energy, their activity, entrepreneurship, in order to advance your standard of living."
[Source: Channel NewsAsia, 09/09/2005]

Singaporean defers army service to play computer games

20-year-old Stanley Aw was allowed to postpone national service by nearly two months so he could compete in the World Cyber Games.

"In line with the Government's support for sports, culture and the arts, the Ministry of Defense will consider granting one-time deferments for pre-enlistees who are selected to represent Singapore at prestigious international sports and cultural events," the Straits Times quoted a spokesman as saying.

Unimaginable - but a clear sign that the government is "softening up."

[Source: Reuters, 06/09/2005]

Singaporean emerges top at Johor Institute of Islamic Studies

A SINGAPOREAN was the toast of the Johor Institute of Islamic Studies (Marsah) Sixth Convocation here today. Shahida Johari received the Menteri Besar’s award for best overall achievement in academics, extra-curricular activities, discipline and virtuous living.

She was also the best student in Usuluddin Studies Department (Islamic Theology).
[Source: New Straits Times, 11/09/2005]