What the law says about streaming illegal content

Are consumers who have bought an Android box that can stream illegal content at risk of getting taken to court by content owners? It depends.

Singapore's Copyright Act deals with consumers who download or possess copies of illegal content, and those who use illegal set-top boxes to decode pay-TV channels to watch shows without paying for them.

Copyright holders such as Singtel and StarHub can take individuals to court for these offences.

Those found guilty of downloading and possessing illegal content can face a fine of up to $50,000 or be jailed up to three years, or both. Those found guilty of circumventing encryption measures by using illegal set-top boxes can face a fine of up to $20,000.

However, the law is not clear on streaming illegal content by way of an app in, say, an Android box.

"While the broadcaster of the illegal stream may be liable under the Act, the recipient of the illegal stream - in the absence of any decoding or encryption circumvention - is unlikely to be liable," said Mr Cyril Chua of Robinson LLC.


While the broadcaster of the illegal stream may be liable under the Act, the recipient of the illegal stream... is unlikely to be liable.

MR CYRIL CHUA of Robinson LLC.

Several sections of the Act deal with peddlers of illegal content. For instance, those found guilty of selling or distributing illegal content may face a fine of up to $10,000 for each offending title, be jailed for up to five years, or both.

The Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (Casbaa) said that Singapore's laws must play catch-up with technology changes. Mr John Medeiros, Casbaa's chief policy officer, said: "There are concrete ways to change the law to facilitate enforcement."

Citing its feedback to Singapore's Ministry of Law (MinLaw) late last year, Casbaa said that the law can be updated to include decoding that takes place outside Singapore to allow content to be streamed illegally to consumers in Singapore via apps in Android boxes.

When contacted, MinLaw and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) said: "MinLaw and Ipos are conducting a broad review of our copyright regime, and have held two public consultations. We will carefully consider all the responses received as part of this review."

Irene Tham

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2017, with the headline 'What the law says about streaming illegal content'. Print Edition | Subscribe