TV box piracy case

Prosecutors win rare appeal, quashing 'excessive' jail term

Director of firm that sold illicit streaming devices gets $31k fine instead of original 12-week jail sentence

Jia Xiaofeng's firm, Synnex Trading, sold Android TV boxes that let users access pirated content.
Jia Xiaofeng's firm, Synnex Trading, sold Android TV boxes that let users access pirated content.

Prosecutors have won a rare appeal to quash an "excessive" 12-week jail term handed down to the director of a firm which sold Android TV boxes that allowed users to access pirated content.

In a landmark case involving the sale of illicit streaming devices, the original jail sentence, meted out for one charge under the Copyright Act, was replaced with a $31,200 fine by the High Court on Monday.

In total, Jia Xiaofeng has to pay a fine of $36,600, as he had also been fined $5,400 for three other charges. The total $160,800 fine imposed on his company, Synnex Trading, remains.

The prosecution did not take issue with these other sentences.

State prosecutors had made the "unusual but necessary" move of appealing against the jail term because the lower court had relied on a 2013 sentencing precedent - cited by private prosecutors - that had eventually been overturned.

A private prosecution is a criminal proceeding initiated by an individual or private organisation, instead of by the state. Lawyers in private practice are usually engaged to conduct the prosecution.

On Monday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong argued that a "high fine" would be the appropriate sentence in the present case.

He said the district judge's reliance "upon a decision that had been overturned on appeal was a clear error of law, resulting in a sentence that is manifestly excessive".

In the 2013 case, the offender was initially given eight weeks' jail, but after he appealed, the High Court cut the sentence to a $10,000 fine.

The DPP noted that new legislative provisions will be introduced to impose civil and criminal liability on people who deal commercially in illicit streaming devices.

Future cases would be prosecuted under the new laws and the decision in the present case will have little value as a precedent, he said.

He noted that, pending the enactment of the new laws, there remains a lack of clarity on the Government's policy on how severely offending retailers should be punished.

In 2017, Jia and Synnex were hauled to court in a private prosecution taken out by Mr Neil Kevin Gane, who represented rights-holders such as the English Premier League (EPL), Fox Networks Group and pay-TV operators Singtel and StarHub.

The set-top boxes sold by Synnex allowed access to live EPL football matches, TVB channels streamed on StarHub and National Geographic documentaries owned by Fox, among others.

On Oct 30 last year, Jia and Synnex each pleaded guilty to four charges under the Copyright Act, three for wilfully authorising copyright infringement for commercial gain and one for possessing illicit streaming devices.

The prosecuting lawyer asked for Jia to be jailed for the possession charge, citing the 2013 case.

In sentencing Jia, the district judge said he should get a longer jail term because he had 104 devices, compared with two memory sticks and a memory card that the offender in the previous case had.

It was only later that the district judge learnt that the offender in the previous case was ultimately not sentenced to jail.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2020, with the headline 'Prosecutors win rare appeal, quashing 'excessive' jail term'. Subscribe