Copyright piracy is not new. Back in the 60s and 70s, this was rampant in Singapore. We had pirated LPs and cassettes selling at a fraction of what the original releases cost. Also, pirates were able to compile hit songs across various record labels – something the labels could not compete with. Also, many record stores would offer copying services to their customers, providing mixtapes at an affordable cost.

When video tapes became commercially available, it became lucrative for the pirates to copy movies – the main attraction being that these pirated copies would usually be uncensored as Singapore censors were unreasonably liberal with their scissors. In addition, movie lovers had access to films that the local distributors deemed uncommercial to import into the country.

Yes, everybody understood that this was illegal but it seemed like a victimless crime so why not?

Yesterday I attended a presentation about online piracy and was not surprised by any of the findings. The rise of the online sharing platforms has shifted power from the content owners (not artists mind you) to digital platforms like iTunes, YouTube, Spotify, Torrent sites and so on. By all accounts, the hardest hit in Singapore has been the music industry.

Of course, I would clarify that this actually refers to foreign music and not local music as Singapore music has been in the doldrums ever since the Government banned live rock music in the early 70s. In any case, it’s ironic to hear record labels grumbling how the online platforms have taken money away from the artists – after all, haven’t the labels been screwing the artists over for decades with their unfair recording contracts?

Anyway. Yes, the situation is fairly terminal now with the younger generation (15-24 years old) having no qualms about obtaining their entertainment free off the internet. The slippery slope argument is that one day, the entertainment industry will completely disappear. Thus, something needs to be done to arrest this development. The solution appears to be to block sites where such illegal copies are available. How the general public in Singapore responds to that move should be interesting though.

But apart from that, perhaps the content owners might want to consider a few alternatives.

One, pricing. Make it cheaper to access the content legally. Take the example of SingTel over-charging for the broadcast of the World Cup 2014. Would anybody be searching for means to illegally stream the World Cup matches, if the price was fair and reasonable? I personally am boycotting this profiteering move by SingTel.

Two, make content available simultaneously as the original broadcast. For example, TV shows where fans need to avoid online spoilers to enjoy the content. Three months later just does not make sense!

Three, stop the censorship nonsense. Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen’s Shame (about sexual addiction) was not even shown in Singapore due to requested MDA cuts being denied by the director. More recently, The Wolf of Wall Street had FIVE minutes of footage cut in order to fulfill MDA requirements. Hardly a conducive environment for the artistic intent, is it?

Four, if Singapore is going out on a limb to block these sites, then content owners and other relevant organizations need to support Singapore artists as well. It is ironic that during the presentation, the younger generation’s desire to get content for free was labeled as bad behavior YET Singapore musicians are often being requested to play for free by these same corporations and other relevant organizations! The sheer hypocrisy is mind-numbing!

At the end of the day, this initiative does not help me as an artist. As a Singaporean singer-songwriter, the odds are stacked against me in favour of foreign acts or cover bands. I met an old friend at the event and he naively asked me which label I was signed to! It’s not his fault but there is a general ignorance (and ambivalence) about local artists in Singapore and this will continue even when all the torrent sites in the world are successfully blocked. The most important question remains unaddressed – when will Singaporeans support their homegrown artists?