Being among the world's top 10 online pirates exposes a shameful aspect of Singaporeans who yearn to be digital mavens in the new economy but are not beyond petty online theft. Such thievery puts them in the company of rampant cheats in economically backward countries like Belarus, Lithuania, Georgia, Ukraine and Latvia. Being better off (as indicated by a high ranking in the gross national income per capita tables), Singapore is out of place among the worst Internet bandits, rated by illegal visits per Internet user.
Consumers here have several legitimate online content options like Netflix, Hooq, CatchPlay, Spotify and Apple Music. Yet about 40 per cent of Singaporeans actively turn to illegal Web-streaming, video- and audio-ripping, and illicit peer-to-peer sharing of content. Almost two-thirds said their main reason for breaking the law was to get the content free, while a third stole to see content as soon as possible.
Scant respect for the rightful ownership of content will hurt Singapore's creative and digital industries as they seek a share of the global market. One can hardly rail against unscrupulous practices in places that offer little copyright protection when Singaporeans themselves are tops in ripping off others. Such attitudes will diminish Singapore's reputation for upholding sound business and consumer practices.
Many here engage in piracy with the use of media players that allow online content to be streamed to television sets. These are said to come preloaded with apps to stream illegal content. Given the brazen nature of such commerce, firmer action is needed against those selling these products. Buyers must also not regard illegal apps as socially acceptable conveniences. Just because property is intellectual in form does not make it fair game for pirates. Making any type of theft a grey area will nibble away at social norms.