1. Mr Speaker, let me first thank the Members, Mr Louis Ng, Mr Darryl David and Mr Ong Teng Koon who have spoken and for their support of the NLB (Amendment) Bill. They have raised valid questions on the Bill. Let me now endeavour to address them with some detail.
Scope of Online Materials Collected
2. Mr Ong asked about the scope of online material which may be web-harvested, and whether it would be clear to website owners which elements of their websites would be web-harvested. The intent of this amendment is to ensure that Singapore-related content, which is increasingly found online, is collected and preserved for future generations so that they can better understand the evolution of events here. So, in the first instance, NLB will collect material from all .sg domain websites. This means that NLB will not be collecting material residing in social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that are not within the .sg domain. For .sg websites, NLB will archive all the pages within the websites including images, PDF documents, audio files and video files that are hosted within the websites themselves. However, content hosted on external websites, such as links to videos hosted on YouTube, will not be archived.
3. In addition to .sg domain websites, we also recognise that there are other non.sg websites which may also contain valuable content about Singapore. For such websites, NLB will proactively approach the site owners for permission to archive the sites. Mr Speaker, I want to reiterate here that NLB will only be collecting material that is publicly available; it will not collect material that is behind a paywall or open only to subscribers or members.
4. Mr Ong has also asked if an annual web-harvesting exercise would be sufficient, given that content on the Internet changes so quickly and frequently. We do not intend to emulate Google, I assure Mr Ong, but the proposed frequency of harvesting the .sg domain websites is generally in line with international practices. However, as I mentioned earlier, there will be instances where some websites will be archived more frequently. So it becomes a judgement call in terms of the currency and relevance. But by and large, an automate annual exercise should suffice to provide that snapshot that is being sought.
5. On the specific issue of whether NLB will be web-harvesting objectionable material such as content which could pose a threat to Singapore’s national security – to be clear, what NLB endeavours to do is to preserve a comprehensive record of Singapore-related websites through web-harvesting. As these are important resources that chart Singapore’s cultural and social changes over time, it is essential that we capture them as they are so that they can accurately reflect the cultural and social landscape of our nation at different points in time. If the websites archived are found to contain content that is found to be objectionable under the relevant laws or codes, then NLB may block access to that content. In other words, NLB will still archive the content, but may not allow access to it.
6. Mr Ong has also asked if website owners could decline to be web-harvested. He also pointed out that some website owners might post their content on non .sg sites to avoid being archived. In general, if you are publishing content on a website, one assumes that you want it to be read, and it is counterintuitive to then say that “I want it to be published but I do not want it to be archived”. In fact, our public consultation with website owners last year showed that they were generally receptive and supportive of the web-harvesting initiative as they understood that the intent is for us to retain the collective memories of our nation. Furthermore, this will allow them to have their content captured and stored for posterity. So I think there is an alignment of interest. We recognise that website owners have the right to choose the platforms on which they distribute their materials but we hope that they will join us in our efforts to keep a part of our history alive.
Balance between access for users and protection for content creators
7. Several members, Mr Louis Ng in particular, has also asked how NLB would be ensuring that publishers’ rights and content creators’ copyrights and intellectual property (IP) are protected, while making collected material easily accessible to people. This is an important point – how do we strike that balance?
8. All three Members asked whether we can consider making access to digital archived content more accessible, so that more people can benefit from them. Indeed, it is important that we ensure that the nation’s published heritage is accessible to future and current generations of Singaporeans, and for all the good reasons that we have emphasised.
9. But at the same time, we also share their concerns regarding the protection of commercial interests of publishers of electronic materials, and they have asked how we will ensure that these interests will not be compromised in any way by the amendments to the Act. These are valid concerns. We have also heard these concerns from stakeholders, like book publishers, in our consultations.
10. To strike a balance as we embark on this new scheme, NLB will, for a start, provide public access to the collected electronic publications and websites at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library located at the National Library Building. These materials can only be viewed at the computer terminals with no downloading, copying or printing allowed. Two concurrent users will be able to view each item in the collections at any one time. This approach mirrors that of NLB’s current Legal Deposit policy for physical materials, which requires two copies to be deposited. We think this strikes a good, starting balance between safeguarding publishers’ intellectual property interests, and giving the public access to these materials.
11. There are, however, instances where the content of the collected electronic materials or websites are made available to the public beyond the library’s premises. This is now done where express permission has already been given by the copyright owner or when the copyright has expired, and the content will be made accessible via NLB’s digital services and websites such as BookSG and Web Archives Singapore. For example, the archived websites of the W!ld Rice Theatre Company (www.wildrice.com.sg), the Eurasian Association Singapore (www.eurasians.org.sg) and Singapore National Olympic Council (www.singaporeolympics.sg) are made available online as prior consent has been given, while the digitised copy of Hikayat Abdullah (Stories of Abdullah), published by the Mission Press in 1849, is also available online as the copyright has expired. In time to come, we hope to be able to share a greater collection of materials on NLB’s digital platforms through the support of content creators and publishers as they join us in our efforts to make our nation’s published heritage accessible in more ways.
12. I want to assure all Members that under the proposed amendments, the copyright of digital content continues to reside with the content creators and publishers. In the event that members of the public or researchers wish to use the content beyond just research and study, they will still have to approach the copyright owners for permission.
13. Mr Louis Ng has asked if there was a grace period after publication before content will be made available in the National Library. As there are several steps involved in the processing of material, which includes quality check and cataloguing, it may take one to six months from the date of collection – depending on the type of material collected – before it is made accessible to the public. For instance, in the case of websites, it may take up to six months from the last archiving exercise before a website is ready for public viewing.
14. The online material collected via web-harvesting will also be made available in an easily accessible form. Mr Ng asked if NLB will be making indices and abstracts of archives available online for citizens and researchers to have greater access. I am very happy to share with him that NLB is at present already cataloguing and indexing websites for which they have obtained permission to archive. Archived websites can be found on NLB’s digital platform, One Search, and their Web Archives Singapore has an alphabetical and subject listing of all archived websites to date.
15. As Mr Darryl David has pointed out, there is a large amount of information collected via Legal Deposit and Web Harvesting which NLB needs to ensure is stored securely while remaining publicly accessible. On this point I would like to highlight that NLB has a secure digital infrastructure that is protected in accordance with robust government standards. There are regular reviews of the security and resilience of our systems, including the necessary firewalls and antivirus software to protect against malicious cyber activities. Alongside this, NLB’s digitisation and preservation policies will ensure that deposited content is preserved. This includes the migration of content to updated formats from time to time, which will prevent content from being corrupted or lost when formats become obsolete.
16. Mr Speaker Sir, I believe I have addressed substantively the points that have been raised by the Members. I want to reiterate that the proposed amendments to the Bill will be an important step forward in allowing the National Library Board to preserve the materials which document Singapore’s history and culture, so that these can be made available to our future generations. These amendments are especially crucial in this digital era given that more and more valuable materials are now residing online and available in electronic formats. We must focus our collection efforts on such materials now so that we do not lose important pieces of our culture, our heritage, and our history.
17. On this note, I want to thank all three Members who have spoken in support of the Bill.
18. Sir, I beg to move.