Dallas Buyers Club case: US studio says blocking piracy sites not an effective method to protect copyright

Story updated on April 15, 2015

An earlier version of this story said Voltage Pictures had described Singapore's anti-piracy laws as ineffective. This is incorrect, and we are sorry for the error.

THE studio behind a recent controversial move to demand damages from illegal downloaders has said it did not choose the option of blocking piracy websites as that was not an effective method of copyright protection.

Voltage Pictures also defended its decision to give those accused of illegally downloading its Oscar-winning film, Dallas Buyers Club, three days to respond to its demand for compensation, saying that the seriousness of the issue required urgent attention.

Last week, 77 M1 users were sent the demand letter which asked for a written offer of damages and costs, a move which sparked heated discussion on the Internet and social media.

Mr Samuel Seow, the managing director of Samuel Seow Law Corporation, which represents Voltage Pictures, said that the studio decided to take the litigation route because it is the "only real option" available to copyright holders.

Voltage would have been among the first to take advantage of Singapore's amended Copyright Act, which came into force in August last year, but it chose not to do so.

Under the Act, copyright holders can seek a High Court order to get Internet service providers (ISPs) to block piracy websites. Before the revised law, content owners could not compel ISPs to block pirated content.

"Website blocking can be easily circumvented using a VPN (virtual private network)... It is not an effective method of copyright protection," Mr Seow told The Straits Times.

Most piracy websites also have "proxy" Web addresses, or alternative addresses, that can be entered into Web browsers to allow users to gain access to the blocked sites.

This is why file-sharing site The Pirate Bay still remains accessible although it has been blocked in various jurisdictions, he said.

"Given the seriousness of the acts, our client felt that three days were sufficient for the infringers to comply with the demand," Mr Seow said.

Deadline extensions were given to those who requested them.

But some lawyers here say that the time given to respond to the letters is too short.

Mr Lau Kok Keng, intellectual property lawyer at Rajah & Tann Singapore, said: "It is an indication that the copyright owner wishes to exert maximum pressure on the alleged downloaders to offer monetary settlements quickly."

Mr Lau, who represented local anime distributor Odex in a high-profile case in 2007 when it went after hundreds of illegal downloaders, said that a one-week notice is usually given.

"There must be enough time for the letter to be received, read and understood by its recipients, and for them to obtain legal advice, if need be," he added.

The letters sent out to alleged Dallas Buyers Club downloaders also did not state any compensation amount.

Mr Lau also said that not stating the compensation amount could be an attempt to settle quickly with those with the least resistance.

High-profile personalities are "less resistant" to settling quickly, to avoid any embarrassment or reputational damage, said Mr Lau.

Voltage, which earlier denied accusations of profiteering by targeting consumers, said that more demand letters can be expected after Singtel and StarHub hand over customer details by April 27 and May 16 respectively, as ordered by the Singapore High Court.

More than 500 Singapore Internet protocol addresses where the movie was downloaded illegally were identified.


Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.