PARLIAMENT

Anti-piracy law set to kick in soon

Posed photo of Internet user downloading data via BitTorrent. -- ST PHOTO: FILE
Posed photo of Internet user downloading data via BitTorrent. -- ST PHOTO: FILE

Content owners can then seek court orders for ISPs to block piracy sites

A proposed copyright law aimed at piracy websites like The Pirate Bay is expected to come into force by the end of next month.

The Bill was put before Parliament yesterday and was on the verge of being passed when the sitting was adjourned. It is expected to be passed today.

First mooted in April, it will let content owners seek High Court orders to get Internet service providers (ISPs) like SingTel or StarHub to block websites that "clearly and flagrantly infringe" copyright.

Currently, content owners can request only that ISPs block pirated content. They can sue the ISPs for copyright infringement if they do not comply. But this could mean months of litigation, so no content rights holders have tried it.

The proposed amendments to the Copyright Act could shorten the process to just two months.

Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah said: "The prevalence of online piracy in Singapore turns customers away from legitimate content and adversely affects Singapore's creative sector.

"It can also undermine our reputation as a society that respects the protection of intellectual property."

She cited a 2012 ranking by locally based digital content management systems provider Vobile that placed Singapore in fourth position among 18 Asian countries, and 12th out of 38 countries globally, based on the number of illegal downloads per Internet user.

The amendment to Singapore's Copyright Act follows similar jurisdictions in Britain, Norway, Denmark and Belgium.

It was proposed amid opposition from some quarters. The Internet Society's Singapore chapter president Harish Pillay said that consumers may suffer. "It should be amended to prevent unintended consequences such as allowing big businesses to target new competitors to stifle innovation," he said.

Teacher Kuang Jingkai, 32, said content rights holders should instead focus on making more content available to consumers at reasonable prices. "Content providers cannot push for more anti-piracy controls, and yet still continue to overcharge people here," he said.

For instance, the 2013 American war film Lone Survivor cost US$9.99 for the high definition version in the United States iTunes store, but the local iTunes store sells it for $24.98.

During the Law Ministry's two-week-long consultation exercise in April, there were also concerns that the measure would significantly restrict the public's access to digital content.

Included in the 47 written anonymous responses received were suggestions that the Government should instead tackle the problem of a lack of legitimate digital content to deter consumers from turning to alternative sources.

But the Law Ministry maintained that there is already a range of legitimate digital music and video services here including iTunes, Spotify, Deezer, StarHub's TV Anywhere and MediaCorp's Toggle.

"Nonetheless, the Government will continue to encourage (the) industry to make available more legitimate digital content to Singapore quickly and at reasonable cost," the Law Ministry said.

itham@sph.com.sg