SINGAPORE - Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) has brought a copyright infringement suit against the duo behind The Real Singapore (TRS) socio-political website.
The Singapore-listed media group alleged that content from its newspapers had been reproduced on the website without permission between January 2011 and April this year.
A writ of summons and statement of claim were filed in the High Court on May 7 and the papers served on Yang Kaiheng, 26, and Ai Takagi, 22, yesterday.
They were served by a clerk from WongPartnership, representing SPH, as they walked to the State Courts in Havelock Square for a pre-trial conference for a separate sedition case.
Yang, a Singaporean, and Takagi, his Australian fiancee, have been identified as being editors, developers, operators, moderators and administrators of TRS.
In its statement of claim, SPH cited at least 191 articles from its stable of newspapers that were substantially reproduced, without licence or authorisation, in the form of 177 articles on TRS.
The SPH articles included crime and political stories as well as commentaries, and first ran in The Straits Times, The Business Times, The New Paper and MyPaper.
The media company said in court papers that Yang and Takagi had "systematically and consistently" used these articles for content on TRS, and received financial benefit from doing so.
Twice this year - on March 18 and April 2 - SPH sent letters to Yang and Takagi notifying them of the copyright infringement.
The "TRS Editorial Team" replied to the first letter via e-mail the same day, acknowledging their articles contained "copyright infringing contents... uploaded by those who have writer accounts". It said the articles "have now been removed". It did not reply to SPH's second letter.
But SPH contends in its claim that some articles remained accessible on the website until early this month, when TRS was ordered to shut down by the Media Development Authority (MDA) for publishing articles deemed "objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public order and national harmony".
SPH is asking the court to declare that TRS infringed its copyright. It wants an injunction to stop TRS from continuing to do so; damages; or alternatively an account of profits that TRS made through the articles and the payment of the amount to SPH.
TRS was taken down by its editors on May 3, after the MDA suspended the licence of Yang and Takagi to operate the site.
The media regulator said they deliberately made up articles to incite anti-foreigner sentiment and undermine national harmony here, to drive traffic to the site and raise advertising dollars.
The couple have made representations to the MDA on the matter, and are awaiting a review that will determine if their licence will be revoked.
Yang and Takagi were charged with seven counts of sedition for articles published between October 2013 and February this year that allegedly promoted ill-will and hostility between different races or classes here. They face another charge of failing to produce documents, such as financial statements, to investigators.
Earlier this month, Yang was allowed to visit his critically ill father in Brisbane, Australia. He returned a week ago. His father is also back and hospitalised here.
The couple's lawyer Choo Zheng Xi said yesterday that he will be making representations to the Attorney-General's Chambers on the criminal case. The next pre-trial conference for the case is on July 1.