Proposed copyright law aimed at piracy websites gets thumbs up

Move allows content owners to seek court orders to block offending sites

Content owners like cable TV networks have given a proposed copyright law aimed at piracy websites the thumbs up after a two-week-long public consultation exercise.

The proposed law - mooted in April and set to take effect by year end - would let content owners seek High Court orders to get Internet service providers (ISP) like SingTel or StarHub to block websites that “clearly and flagrantly infringe” copyright.

Content owners can now only request that ISPs block pirated content. They can sue these providers for copyright infringement if they do not comply. But this could mean months of litigation. The proposed amendments to the Copyright Act could shorten the process to just two months.

Content owners told The Straits Times the proposed law will make things easier for them.

For one thing, this means they would no longer face the bind of suing ISPs to force them to remove users’ access to pirated content, yet having to work with the same ISPs to distribute content on their pay-TV platforms.

“Seeking injunctions against ISPs is impractical for us, especially since two of the major ISPs here are also our platform partners,” said Ms Yvonne Tay, senior vice president and general manager of Fox International Channels Singapore. This is why content rights holders rarely pursue this path, she told The Straits Times.

Mr Arjan Hoekstra, president and managing director at Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, also praised the proposed law for recognising that the “online theft of content” has a negative impact on creativity and originality.

Intellectual property and technology lawyer Jonathan Kok, partner at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, said: “ISPs will respond more readily to a court order, considering that they also have consumers’ needs to answer to.”

The Ministry of Law would not disclose the number of responses it received except to say that they came from ISPs, individuals and content industry groups.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents more than 1,000 producers and distributors of sound recordings, took part in the consultation. Its regional director for Asia, Mr Ang Kwee Tiang, said the proposed law would absolve ISPs from liability, which is key to getting their cooperation.

When contacted, ISPs SingTel, StarHub and MyRepublic said they support the proposed law.

Some consumers do not think the new law will be effective. Said Trade magazine writer Melissa Chua, 30: “New sites pop up after one closes down.”

Teacher Kuang Jingkai, 32, said: “Instead of blocking sites or suing people, why not make it easier for people to buy content over the Web?”

itham@sph.com.sg