Feathers were ruffled in the Singapore arts community when a circular Ping Pong table (aka Table Tennis), similar to Singapore artist Lee Wen’s art, PingPongGoRound, was spotted at the Singapore Sports Hub.

The artist was alerted by a fellow artist who took a photo of the table tennis table. The said table was not by the artist, nor was the artist commissioned nor credited for it. Ping Pong Hustle, the name of the 300˚ interactive copycat table, was put up by the Singapore South East Asian Games Organising Committee (Singsoc). Singapore Sports Hub denied any knowledge of the artist’s works and promptly removed the table when the media started highlighting it.

PingPongGoAround first debuted in 1998 in Construction in Process VI – The Bridge in Melbourne, Australia and later toured around the world several times. Two versions of the art installation were recently re-enacted in 2012 in the exhibition, “Lee Wen: Lucid Dreams In The Reverie Of The Real” at the Singapore Art Museum.

This incident has shown how ignorant some government sectors and the public are about our art scene. And by being “ignorant”, many claim innocence and try to get away with rights and crediting the artists for infringing their works. Through the decades, artists have been used and abused many times. Not just the fine art artists but other visual artists in the graphic and design scene as well. Ideas are often stolen after being pitched or tendered and even published. Clients who asked for the pitch will eventually hire the cheapest agency but use the best ideas pitched by another agency or designer.

Copycats seem to be the norm, especially in the design and advertising industry. I have seen countless copycats adverts, poster designs, logos and campaigns through my years in the design and advertising industry. Often, the culprits get away as ideas and designs are easily recycled, and the original designers or agencies care less about fighting for credits of their innovative ideas as the fight is time-consuming and financially taxing.

An online vigilante, JOE LA POMPE, has a blog that unmasks copycats in the fine arts, design, and advertising industries worldwide. The blog is a fantastic archive of original and copycat designs that the crusader has spent time sourcing worldwide.

“Masked to unmask copycats.” http://www.joelapompe.net/
“Masked to unmask copycats.” http://www.joelapompe.net/
“Masked to unmask copycats.” http://www.joelapompe.net/
“Masked to unmask copycats.” http://www.joelapompe.net/

And just last year, American artist Richard Prince created a buzz in the Fine Art industry. The artist blatantly lifted Instagram shots and comments from the individual Instagramer accounts and sold them for thousands of dollars as his artworks at his exhibition, New Portraits at the Gagosian Gallery. The show had garnered criticism from the public, and Instagramers whose images stolen and sold stood up and retaliated.

Screenshot of Richard Prince's Art Exhibition found on Google search - http://tinyurl.com/RichardPrince-Instagramimages
Screenshot of Richard Prince’s Art Exhibition found on Google search – http://tinyurl.com/RichardPrince-Instagramimages

As fighters and a strong, close-knit community, the practitioners and artists in the Singapore Arts industry have taken a stand and asserted their rights. In this case of Lee Wen vs Singapore Sports Council. The Singapore Arts community gathered together and petitioned for the artist. A letter calling for discourse on intellectual property (IP) and artistic practices, asserting the artist’s rights, was written and sent out by the Singapore arts community. It was published on 9th June 2015 by the Straits Times and on other media.

The letter petitioning for the artist’s rights has garnered attention, and Artitute was informed that the Sports Council, Lee Wen and his gallerist had reached an agreement. Unfortunately, we were not told if any financial compensation was given, but it was a win-win situation for all parties.

Moving forward from this episode, the arts community members are looking at ways to strengthen their understanding of IP and creative practices in Singapore and work towards concrete steps towards preventing such future episodes. The arts community is looking for volunteers to offer pro-bono legal assistance to the artists, to assist in understanding existing laws (local and overseas) and contracts and provide administrative support or help out in other ways. If you would like to help, please drop Artitute an email, and we will forward it to the organiser.

I am glad that the Arts community is initiating these educational sessions. Artists and designers, especially the younger ones, need to be educated about IP Rights. I am not sure if Intellectual and Copyrights Acts are taught in Art institutions (not during my time at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in the 90s). As someone in the design industry for over 15 years, I only came to understand IP Rights while working with my company’s legal advisors. After that, I had better knowledge when I took up the Arts Management course at The Sotheby’s Institute. The module, Intellectual and Copyrights Act, was taught by Mr Samual Seow, a well-known lawyer in Singapore who specialises in IP Rights for Singapore artists. The course empowered me with knowledge of creative rights.

Here is the letter from the Arts Community. And supporting the letter, 229 individuals from the arts community have signed the letter to support their stand.

Call for Discourse on IP and Artistic Practices

We refer to the incident in which a horse shoe-shaped ping-pong table installed at the Sports Hub for the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games carnival resembled the art work “Ping-Pong Go Round” by Cultural Medallion winner Lee Wen.

Lee has stated he was not informed or given credit for the idea. The SEA Games Organising Committee has claimed that there was no intention to infringe on any rights, and that a vendor who was unaware of the similarity proposed the activity.

However, Lee has clarified that a proposal to exhibit this art work in front of the Sports Hub was submitted to both the Minister of Culture, Community and Youth and Sports Hub in 2014. The Minister’s office confirmed receipt of this proposal. Furthermore, since 1998, this installation has toured widely around the world.

We understand the installation has since been dismantled and discussions are currently ongoing between all relevant parties.

We hope that an amicable outcome can be reached so Lee’s art can continue to engage the public. This is a good example of how art can enliven spaces and connect strangers to one another in fun and imaginative ways. Such projects illustrate the endless possibilities art can bring to make Singapore a more attractive place, and should be encouraged.

It is troubling however that due consideration and acknowledgement were not initially given to the artist. We are also concerned that the intellectual property (IP) lawyers consulted in the Straits Times’ article “Ping-pong table too similar to artwork?” (5 June 2015) felt no copyright had been infringed.

This incident highlights the lack of sufficient measures that respect and protect artistic creation in Singapore. In a nation that has been consistently ranked by international surveys as having one of the best IP protection laws in the world, why did this incident occur? Even if it was legal, is it ethical?

This incident raises questions about the environment for creativity and original content creation in Singapore – key outputs desired by national policies that have been calling for Singapore to become a knowledge economy powered by innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.

Given its importance, we feel that more can be done to encourage, respect and protect content creation. The government has made tremendous efforts in growing and professionalising the arts. Unfortunately, limited understanding of artists’ rights and standard industry practices remains. Capability development and nurturing a culture of creativity means that artists should be given legitimate recognition and reward for the time and effort that they spend on proposing and creating art works, with the assurance that their ideas and creations are protected from plagiarism and imitation.

Moving forward, we hope this incident will inspire more discussion on IP in the arts, and concrete steps can be taken towards according clearer IP protection for arts and cultural workers.

Signed by:

  1. Aaron Khek Ah Hock
  2. Abdul Hamid
  3. Adeline Chia Hui Ting
  4. Adeline Kueh
  5. Adrian Heok Kay Heng
  6. Alfian Bin Sa’at
  7. Alvin Tan Cheong Kheng
  8. Andre Goh Ming Hui
  9. Ang Chong Leong
  10. Ang Gey Pin
  11. Ang Song Nian
  12. Angeline Lee
  13. Angie Sim
  14. Annie Kwan
  15. Anthony Chen Zheyi
  16. Anthony Goh Jwee Kiat
  17. Audi Khalid
  18. Audrey Wong
  19. Bianca Cornelia Geertruida Polak
  20. Boo Junfeng
  21. Brendon Fernandez
  22. Brenton Wong Kok Leong
  23. Calvin Soh Wye Ann
  24. Casey Lim
  25. Catherine Lim Suat Hong
  26. Celine Lim Su-Fen
  27. Chan Li Shan
  28. Chan Sze-Wei
  29. Chan Wei-yin Jaclyn
  30. Charles Lim
  31. Charmaine Toh
  32. Cheah En Wei John
  33. Chelsea Chua,
  34. Chew Kheng Chuan
  35. Chia QiLong, Andy
  36. Chia Sin Chiat
  37. Chng Wei Jie, Ivan
  38. Chong Ja Ian
  39. Choo Zheng Xi
  40. Chua Lian Choon (Richard)
  41. Chong Li-Chuan
  42. Chong Teck Seng Oliver
  43. Chong Tze Chien
  44. Christine Chia Yueh Chin
  45. Christopher Justin Wee Wan-ling
  46. Christopher Khor Qi Yao
  47. Chun Kaifeng
  48. Chun Kaiqun
  49. Chuang Xiu’Er
  50. Clare Yong
  51. Colin Goh Yong Ping
  52. Cyril Wong Yit Mun
  53. Dahlia Osman
  54. Dan Koh
  55. Dana Lam Yoke Kiew
  56. Daniel Goh Pei Siong
  57. Deusa Blumke
  58. Edmund Wee
  59. Edward Choy Keng Choong
  60. Elizabeth Lim
  61. Eng Kai Er
  62. Eugene Tan Siah Yew
  63. Fadzlee Ahmad
  64. Faris Basharahil
  65. Fiona Lee
  66. Fong Hoe Fang
  67. Gaurav Kripalani,
  68. Gwee Li Sui
  69. Han Xuemei
  70. Harris Jahim
  71. Haslinda Abdul Rahman
  72. He Shuming
  73. Helmi Yusof
  74. Heman Chong
  75. Heng Liang Ngim
  76. Ho Catherine
  77. Ho Tzu Nyen
  78. Ho Xi Huei Vanessa
  79. Hoe Su Fern,
  80. Ian Woo Yew Kong
  81. Ivan Heng Ai Jin,
  82. Izmir Ickbal
  83. Jay Yao
  84. Jack Sim Juek Wah
  85. James Jordan Tay
  86. Jane M. Shishido
  87. Janice Koh Yu-Mei
  88. Jasmine Ng Kin Kia
  89. Jeremy Chu Chan Peng
  90. Jeremy Jeyam Samuel (Jeremy Tiang)
  91. Jessica Anne Rahardjo
  92. Jessica Chua
  93. Jimmy Ong Boon Ching
  94. Jolene Tan
  95. Juria Toramae
  96. K Rajagopal
  97. Kamil Iqbal Haque
  98. Kamini Ramachandran
  99. Kathryn Kng Poey Choo
  100. Kea Boon Ming Earl
  101. Kelvin Lim
  102. Kelvin Tong Weng Kian
  103. Kenneth Chia Jin Hui
  104. Kevin Chua
  105. Khoo Guo Jie
  106. Koh Hui Ling
  107. Koh Jee Leong
  108. Kok Heng Leun
  109. Kok Yik Leng, Daniel
  110. Kuo Jian Hong
  111. Kwek Yi Qing Sonia
  112. Lai Chee Kien
  113. Lam Hoi Lit
  114. Lee Gim Lay
  115. Lee Gwo Yinn
  116. Lee Mun Fatt, David
  117. Lee Tee Keong Kenneth
  118. Lee Wai Loon, Kris
  119. Lee Wen
  120. Leong May Yen
  121. Liao Jiekai
  122. Lim Jialiang
  123. Lim Joshua Jonathan
  124. Lim Kay Siu
  125. Lim Siauw Chong
  126. Lin Shiyun
  127. Lina Adam
  128. Lindy Poh
  129. Lisa Li
  130. Lisa Marie Tan Li Shiang
  131. Loo Zihan
  132. Low Yuen Wei
  133. Lucy Davis
  134. Lynn Charlotte Lu
  135. Mahita Vas
  136. Mandy Tan
  137. Marcia Annelise Vanderstraaten
  138. Marcia Lee Tjie Yi
  139. Mark Chan Kok Wah
  140. Mark Chen Yong Chung
  141. Mark Joyce
  142. Meena Mylvaganam
  143. Melinda M. Lee
  144. Melissa Lim May Lin
  145. Mervyn Quek Sze Yon
  146. Michael Cheng Seow Wee
  147. Michele Low
  148. Michelle Lim Seok Ling
  149. Ming Poon
  150. Misháal Bin Syed Nasar
  151. Mok Cui Yin
  152. Ng Swee San
  153. Ng Yi-Sheng
  154. Ngiam Su-Lin
  155. Nicola Anthony
  156. Noor Effendy Ibrahim
  157. Nora A. Taylor
  158. Norasnidah Binte Abdullah
  159. Ong Boon Kok Bendini Junior
  160. Ong Keng Sen
  161. Ong Soh Chin
  162. Otto Fong Yong Chin
  163. Pang Ly-Shan
  164. Patrick Ong Boon Heng
  165. Philip Holden
  166. Prvacki Delia
  167. Prvacki Milenko
  168. Rachel Zeng
  169. Ray Langenbach
  170. Rebekah Anthony
  171. Redzuan Salleh
  172. Renny Normala
  173. Roy Payamal
  174. Royston Tan
  175. Sam Ng Sung Hian
  176. Samuel Woo Junhao
  177. Seng Yu Jin
  178. Serene Yap
  179. Sharmeen Nina Chabra
  180. Shirley Soh
  181. Siew Kum Hong
  182. Sim Mui Ting, Joyce
  183. Sim Yan Ying
  184. Simon Ng Yong Heng
  185. Sinead Tan Jia Na
  186. Siti Hawa Bte Ahmad Yussof
  187. Soh Wee Leong Billy
  188. Tania De Rozario
  189. Tan Han Wei Brendan
  190. Tan Hwee Kwan, Karen
  191. Tan Keng Ing Kirsten
  192. Tan Lee San Theresa
  193. Tan Ngiap Heng
  194. Tan Pin Pin
  195. Tan Qian Yi Moses
  196. Tan Shao Han
  197. Tan Si Min Josephine
  198. Tan Si Peng Terence
  199. Tan Wee Joo
  200. Tan Wei Chuen Adele
  201. Tay Liang Xuan Bridget
  202. Tay Siew Hui Verena
  203. Tay Tong
  204. Teo Kah Yen Abel
  205. Teo Liak Theng
  206. Terence Lau Kah Wai
  207. Thirunalan Sasitharan
  208. Thng Hui Hien
  209. Timothy Julian Nga U On
  210. Tse Hao Guang
  211. Vincent Lim Chew Meng
  212. Vivian Wang
  213. Wang Liansheng
  214. Wee Han Chong, Jason
  215. Wee Li Lin
  216. Wong Chee Meng
  217. Wong Kwang Han
  218. Wong May Ee
  219. Woon Tien Wei
  220. Yap Ching Wi
  221. Yang Jian
  222. Yeo Yann Yann
  223. Yuen Chee Wai
  224. Yuen Yee Foong
  225. Yvonne Lee
  226. Zai Kuning
  227. Zhao Renhui
  228. Zizi Azah Binte Abdul Majid
  229. Zulkarnain Hassan