Website changes name 'to avoid legal confrontations' with The Straits Times, says administrator

SINGAPORE - The administrator of sociopolitical site Straits Times Review announced on Thursday that the site's name has been changed to States Times Review (STR) "to avoid legal confrontations with The Straits Times".

This came a day after media group Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) said it would explore all options - including legal recourse - against the site, which borrows the name of its flagship newspaper, The Straits Times.

SPH had also said that it lodged a trademark infringement complaint with Facebook against the STR Facebook page, and called for the page to be removed.

Prior to the name change announcement, site administrator Alex Tan said in posts on its Facebook page that he applied to register "Straits Times Review" as a trademark in Australia and that the application was "$120 only".

He also said that he e-mailed SPH asking for the issue to be resolved "amicably without wasting resources on legal work".

But shortly after 2pm, he announced the site's name change in a Facebook post: "Hi all, I have changed the site name to States Times Review to avoid legal confrontations with The Straits Times."

He has since also changed the name on the STR Facebook page.

The web page URL for "Straits Times Review" no longer leads to the site. Instead a message says the IP address has changed, there may have been a misconfiguration in the server, or that the site may have been moved to a different server.

In the earlier post about his email to SPH, Mr Tan said he honestly believed the term "Straits Times" was "general and open for public naming", and cited the Malaysian newspaper New Straits Times as an example.

"Let's resolve this issue amicably without wasting resources on legal work. I did not create this website to go into a legal conflict with anyone," he wrote.

On Thursday evening, an SPH spokesman said the company was aware of the name change when it responded to Mr Tan's e-mail.

SPH informed him that the company has "trademark rights, goodwill and other related legal rights" in the name "The Straits Times" and that it did not agree the term "Straits Times" was "general and open for public naming".

"We have asked that he changes the name of his website, Facebook page, etc to one which is not identical or confusingly similar to our trade marks or brand names, and also refrain from using any such trade marks or brand names in the future," said the spokesman.

SPH also informed Mr Tan that in the case of the New Straits Times "there were historical links between the papers".

The spokesman also noted that Mr Tan cannot just change the name of the website without changing the URL of the website and its Facebook page as this would still be tantamount to trademark infringement of The Straits Times.

A check on Thursday evening showed that there is now a new URL in place for "States Times Review". But the URL for its Facebook page had not yet changed.

The STR - which has nothing to do with The Straits Times - was registered on April 18 and characterised itself as an "independent news site based in Australia".

It is run by Mr Tan, a blogger and former political candidate who co-founded controversial website The Real Singapore (TRS) and is now based in Sydney.

A systems engineer, he was formerly associated with Temasek Review, which became TR Emeritus in 2011, and he contested in Ang Mo Kio GRC under the Reform Party banner during the 2011 General Election.

In a Facebook post dated April 21 calling for public contributions, STR named TRS as one of its "partner sites".

A May 4 post added: "Not all articles will be published as I want this to be a permanent initiative and as an alternative to the mainstream media."

TRS was taken down on Sunday, after the Media Development Authority (MDA) ordered its administrators to cease operations and suspended their statutory class licence.

Two of its editors, Singaporean Yang Kaiheng, 26, and his Australian girlfriend Ai Takagi, 22, were charged with seven counts of sedition on April 15 for publishing articles that allegedly promoted ill will and hostility between different races or classes here.

They have been ordered by MDA not to resume the site's operations under another name. Their lawyer Choo Zheng Xi has said that they have nothing to do with STR.

asyiqins@sph.com.sg