The High Court has thrown out Hong Kong-based pay-TV operator PCCW Media's request to block website Dramanice for illegally streaming Korean drama serials, including hits like 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 let content owners seek a High Court order to get Singapore Internet service providers (ISPs) to block piracy websites.
Yesterday, 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.
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 a wrongfully blocked website 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 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 illegal links to some 62 popular Korean drama titles.
The shows are available on PCCW's subscription-based online streaming service Viu, 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, Mr Nicholas Lauw from Rajah & Tann, argued that the pay-TV operator was assigned by the Korean drama content owners to sue. But lawyers for the ISPs said that the Copyright Act does not give an assignee - someone who is not a copyright owner - the right to sue.
M1's lawyer, Mr 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 of 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.
PCCW did not respond to queries by press time.
MyRepublic's general counsel, Ms Isabella Ho, said: "MyRepublic does not condone piracy, and is fully supportive of anti-piracy efforts by copyright owners. However, we had concerns that the PCCW court application was not fully compliant with copyright law."
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.