High Court rejects HK pay-TV firm's request to block Korean drama website

The High Court has dismissed a suit by pay-TV operator PCCW Media to block website Dramanice (pictured).
The High Court has dismissed a suit by pay-TV operator PCCW Media to block website Dramanice (pictured).PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM WEBSITE

SINGAPORE - The High Court has thrown out Hong Kong-based pay-TV operator PCCW Media's request to block a website called Dramanice for illegally streaming Korean dramas, including popular ones such as Descendants Of The Sun, My Love From The Star and The Heirs.

This is the first time such a request has been denied under Singapore's Copyright Act, which was amended in December 2014 to allow content owners to seek a High Court order to get Singapore Internet service providers (ISP) to block piracy websites.

On Thursday (Aug 3), Justice Lee Seiu Kin dismissed the case on grounds that PCCW was neither the copyright owner nor an exclusive licensee of the copyrighted content.

Therefore, he said, PCCW had no grounds to sue.

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During the hearing, Justice Lee also said there was a need to "strike a balance" for the public good.

While he did not elaborate, it is understood that if a website was wrongfully blocked, it must have legal recourse to seek damages. These damages, however, can only be obtained from the copyright owners or exclusive licensees with which it has a contractual agreement.

PCCW served papers on the five ISPs - Singtel, StarHub, M1, MyRepublic and ViewQwest - in May. In the same month, it filed a suit in the High Court asking the ISPs to block links to 62 popular Korean drama titles provided illegally by Dramanice.

The shows are available on PCCW's subscription-based online streaming service Viu, which was launched in Singapore in January last year.

Some of the shows are also broadcast by pay-TV platforms StarHub TV and Singtel TV.

 

The judgment came after a two-hour hearing that focused on whether PCCW could sue under existing copyright rules. So far, only Solarmovie.ph has been blocked since the law was revised.

PCCW's lawyer Nicholas Lauw from Rajah & Tann argued that the pay-TV operator was assigned by the Korean drama content owners to sue.

Lawyers for the ISPs, however, said the Copyright Act does not give an assignee - someone who is not a copyright owner - the right to sue.

M1's lawyer Jason Chan, from Amica Law, said it was "puzzling" why the owners of the content in question did not take legal action.

Mr Cyril Chua from Robinson LLC represented MyRepublic, and Mr Koh Chia Ling from OC Queen Street LLC represented Singtel. StarHub was represented by Mr Lim Yee Ming from Kelvin Chia Partnership. ViewQwest did not have a lawyer in court.

MyRepublic's general counsel Isabella Ho said: "MyRepublic does not condone piracy, and is fully supportive of anti-piracy efforts by copyright owners. However, in this case, we had concerns that the PCCW court application was not fully compliant with copyright law, and the judge agreed with us."

Singtel, StarHub and M1 declined to comment.

Dramanice is among the top 7,000 global websites accessed daily, according to the latest Alexa rankings.

According to statistics from HypeStat.com, Dramanice has 56,500 unique visitors a day, with more than 3,000 visitors from Singapore. Malaysia accounts for the highest number of visitors to Dramanice, with more than 9,000 unique visitors a day.