Wednesday 9 April 2014

Proposed law could make ISPs block piracy websites

By Kenny Chee, The Straits Times, 8 Apr 2014

SINGAPOREANS might see the end of illegal downloads from the infamous file-sharing site, The Pirate Bay.

Yesterday, the Law Ministry proposed new legislation that would allow content owners to get court orders compelling Internet service providers (ISPs) to block "flagrantly infringing" websites. It is set to be implemented by the end of the year.

Recent findings are that six in 10 people download movies and videos illegally online.

Lawyers said the amendment would make it easier for content providers, as the current process to block piracy sites is time consuming and costly, and could theoretically be dragged out over years and cost millions.

Now, rights holders can request ISPs to block pirated content. If the ISPs do not comply, the content owners can sue them for copyright infringement, which drags out the process, said Mr Matt Pollins, an associate at law firm Olswang Asia.

"Any claims that ISPs (infringe copyright), would have been contested very strongly by them here and around the world," he said.

The Government's proposal to tweak the Copyright Act would bypass this roadblock, as the rights holders can apply to the High Court directly to get all ISPs to block piracy sites. The process could take two months.

Since the ISPs are not sued for copyright infringement, "it greatly encourages them to cooperate with rights holders to disable access to foreign-based infringing sites", said the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry's regional director for Asia, Mr Ang Kwee Tiang.

The Swiss-based trade organisation represents more than 1,000 producers and distributors of sound recordings. A report it published last year found that blocking piracy sites has been effective in greatly reducing their use in the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Italy and Britain.

The proposed legislation does not cover legitimate search engines and content-sharing sites such as Google and YouTube, said the Law Ministry in its statement. Whether file-uploading sites, such as Dropbox, are considered piracy sites would be determined by the court, The Straits Times understands.

The court will also decide if it is feasible for an ISP to block access to a piracy site that can be reached using virtual private networks (VPN). These are usually sites that are restricted to specific countries but the restrictions can be bypassed using a VPN.

The penalties for not complying with the proposed legislation are still being worked out.

Members of the public who want to provide feedback on the proposed legislation have until April 21 to do so.

Time to value S'pore's movie experience
By Clara Cheo, Suhaimi Rafdi And Mark Shaw, Published The Straits Times, 10 Apr 2014

THE proposed amendments to the Copyright Act by the Ministry of Law are a step in the right direction in the fight against online copyright infringement. The protection of intellectual property has been a problem which has plagued the creative community for a long time. We welcome the Government's move to create the right environment for the creative community to produce more content, and address the piracy problem.

A recent study by research consultancy Sycamore on the digital habits of 900 Singaporeans showed that seven out of 10 young Singaporeans are pirating movies, music and television programmes. This is a clear indication of a lackadaisical attitude with regard to the issue of copyright infringement. People don't think they are hurting the local industry, and they do it because they can get away with it.

The popular perception is that Singapore's film industry is very insular, and that local movies, which create jobs for actors, directors, crew and editors, are usually not pirated. It is also believed that the industry has very little economic impact. Such misconceptions are hurting the local industry.

Shaw and Cathay are local organisations whose bread-and-butter business is cinema exhibition. Golden Village is not a local company, but it too has created a lot of jobs for Singaporeans over the years, and continues to do so. All three also have movie distribution businesses which have helped many Singaporean film companies recover some of the cost of production.

Singaporeans are fond of their movie experience. The country boasts of one of the world's highest per capita cinema attendance rates at around 4.2 visits per person per year. With more than 200 venues islandwide equipped with world-class screens, movie formats and theatres to suit every budget and taste, Singaporeans can catch the latest blockbuster pretty much on their doorstep.

As cinema exhibitors, Cathay Cineplexes, Shaw Cinemas and Golden Village have worked hard, and invested a lot of money, to ensure that the cinema-goer gets the best possible experience. And yet all that cannot compete when criminals offer movies free online, making money from products that they did not create.

Illegal downloading and streaming of movies does not only hurt the cinema exhibitors. It also has a crippling effect on smaller, independent film producers that are more likely to feel the economic pinch of illegal downloads as box office returns are dampened. The results are far-reaching, as investors shy away from backing local films likely to be leaked.

The easy availability of copyright infringing content online can be seen in the case of KL Gangsters 2, starring Singaporean actor Aaron Aziz. The movie was leaked and downloaded online a month before the release on the big screen. It is time we shut the gate on illegal content in Singapore. It is hurting livelihoods.

Singapore ranks way up the scale of per capita illegal downloading. In March 2012, Mr K. Shanmugam, Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs, pointed out that Singapore ranked worst out of 15 countries in the Asia Pacific with 0.8 per capita incidents of infringement per annum. In January this year, 8 Days magazine ran an article illustrating the fact that Singapore recorded an average of about 300,000 illegal downloads a month.

Where is all the illegal content coming from?

Rogue websites such as The Pirate Bay facilitate the illegal distribution of copyrighted products such as movies, music and television programmes. They exist solely for the direct financial benefit of those that operate them, rather than for any benevolent "sharing" of other people's valuable content with the masses.

Indeed, the latter argument is little more than a clever smokescreen for an extremely profitable online advertising business. During the February 2009 criminal trial of The Pirate Bay in Stockholm, Sweden, it was found that the site's overheads were an estimated US$110,000 (S$137,000). Yet the owners made more than US$1.4 million from advertising revenues alone (a stunning 1,272 per cent illegal profit margin!).

We are all for seeing the Internet as the natural hub for creativity and innovation. But when rogue websites are left unsanctioned to distribute hundreds of thousands of movies, television shows and songs at their whim - none of which they own or have any legal rights to - then perhaps the Internet is not working as it should.

No-one is under the illusion that preventing rogue websites from being accessed in Singapore will solve piracy. There is no silver bullet to this problem. However, measures such as the judicial relief being introduced by the Government have been successfully adopted in other parts of the world.

The responsibility now must be on creating a sustainable and consumer-driven commercial marketplace where artists and the work of copyright holders are respected.

As exhibitors of popular movies, we are happy to see the legitimate online market continue to evolve and expand as a complement to our big screen experience. But we need a level playing field where we do not have to compete with theft on a mass scale.

Singapore needs to move away from being a country that participates in piracy on a rampant scale to one that appreciates and contributes to the mo-vie value chain.

And the initiative to do this needs to be taken now if we are to become a leading digital economy which values its creative industries.

The first writer is CEO of Golden Village Multiplex, the second is CEO of Cathay Cineplexes, while the third is Executive Vice-President, Shaw Organisation.

Vital step towards respecting copyright laws on the Internet

I COMMEND the Government's proposal to tweak the Copyright Act, easing the legal process for compelling Internet service providers to block copyright-infringing websites ("Proposed law could make ISPs block piracy websites"; Tuesday).

Under the proposed law, rights holders can apply to the High Court to block Internet sites, without having to first prove that the ISPs have infringed their rights.

ISPs are generally on the side of rights holders, and the proposed amendment corrects the current anomaly.

A rights holder has to provide ample material evidence to support his application. ISPs and owners of affected websites have a procedural right to challenge any subsequent injunction imposed.

The initiative should not be wrongly interpreted as a restriction on Internet use or censorship; it is strictly about pursuing those who violate intellectual property rights.

The move will help stop users who illegally share, stream or download music, movies, broadcasts and television shows.

One may argue that it will not be a fully effective measure as some users would go out of their way to circumvent the technological barriers.

In a similar vein, we have strict anti-littering laws and yet there are still litterbugs.

In tandem with the proposed legislation, there will be public education and increased avenues and ease for consumers to access the creative content they seek.

It is logical for the creators and publishers of music, films and books to be rewarded for their efforts. I would welcome any arguments on why people should not pay for creative content.

Of course, independent artists, especially emerging ones, can still offer their music for free online, such as through their own webpages, as part of their marketing campaigns. However, they should still be allowed to maintain their right to decide what to do with their works in the future.

This crackdown on piracy is an important step towards respecting copyright laws on the Internet; it injects clarity into a complex process of enforcing rights in the online world.

Edmund Lam (Dr)
Chief Executive Officer & Director
Composers and Authors Society of Singapore
ST Forum, 11 Apr 2014

Not 'game over' yet, but time running out for online pirates
By Jonathan Kok, Published The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2014

TAKING down online pirates who operate across borders is a vexing issue. Unlike real-life pirates flying a Jolly Roger flag, most online pirates do not usually identify themselves with the skull and crossbones sign. But they are just as agile and adept at circumventing enforcement measures as their counterparts.

In recent years, site-blocking injunctions have been used in several European countries, including Britain, to combat online piracy.

According to a recent British High Court decision, such injunctions have been "reasonably effective" in reducing access to pirate websites.

In Singapore, the Ministry of Law is now proposing to arm copyright holders with the same weapon. Under the proposed amendments to the Copyright Act announced by the ministry on April 7, rights holders will be able to apply directly to the courts for injunctions to prevent access to websites which flagrantly infringe their copyright.

It will no longer be necessary to prove that network or Internet service providers are also liable for copyright infringement. The ministry's aim is not to target search engines (such as Google) or websites based primarily on user-generated content (such as YouTube).

Instead, the intention is to outlaw online locations which "show a blatant disregard for, and that clearly infringe copyright", such as peer-to-peer file-sharing website The Pirate Bay.

Interestingly, the draft Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014 sets out a number of factors that the High Court must consider in deciding whether an online location has been or is being used to flagrantly infringe copyright. They include:
- whether the primary purpose is to commit or facilitate copyright infringement;
- whether directories, indexes or categories of the means for copyright infringement are made available;
- whether a disregard for copyright is generally demonstrated;whether access to the online location has been disabled by court orders made in another country;
- whether guides or instructions to circumvent site-blocking court orders are available; andthe number of visitors to the online location.
According to the ministry, these factors were drawn up based on cases in Britain which dealt with applications for site-blocking injunctions. A review by RHTLaw Taylor Wessing of the relevant British cases also showed that the British courts took into account the presence of such conduct in granting site-blocking injunctions.

For example, in a landmark application brought by several record companies against service providers to block access to The Pirate Bay, the British High Court found that the torrent files provided on the pirate site were posted with the primary intent of facilitating copyright infringement. Indeed, they had been conveniently indexed for easy retrieval by users.

A torrent is a small file which facilitates peer-to-peer file sharing.

In addition, the offending site contained advice on how to circumvent blocking measures taken as a result of court orders. Injunctions had also been taken out against The Pirate Bay in other European countries for copyright infringement. The court concluded that The Pirate Bay was "in no sense a passive repository of torrent files".

But although the factors set out in the Bill appear to favour rights holders, it may be too early for them to claim victory. Stipulating the factors in the Bill may inadvertently give online pirates an opportunity to tailor the presentation of their pirate sites to delay, if not impede, enforcement measures by rights holders.

A recent decision in Britain involving a number of peer-to-peer file-sharing websites showed that online pirates can "window-dress" their sites to make them seem like "anti-piracy" sites. Rights holders may, therefore, need to make efforts to pierce the veil of deception before they can convince the judge to consider issuing a site-blocking injunction.

Moreover, the tide of site-blocking injunctions may be starting to turn. In January, a Dutch court ordered Internet service providers to unblock access to The Pirate Bay, holding that the blockade had failed to restrict copyright infringement. It remains to be seen whether the Singapore courts will prefer the non-utilitarian view endorsed by the British courts that "a blocking order may be justified even if it only prevents access by a minority of users".

On the whole, site-blocking injunctions are a welcome addition to the armoury of rights holders in Singapore. As the ministry recognised, there is no single solution to eradicating online piracy.

Other longer-term measures, such as intellectual property rights education and improving consumer access to rights holders' digital content, must work in tandem with shorter-term legal remedies.

It is, perhaps, not yet "game over" for online pirates, but time is running out for them to continue to steal the hard-earned labour of rights holders.

The writer heads the intellectual property & technology practice at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing.

Pulling the plug on online piracy
New rules to stop online piracy are being proposed. But the tech-savvy will find ways around the blocks. Kenny Chee looks at how other countries tackle the issue and the steps that can be taken.
The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2014

THE cat-and-mouse game between downloaders and copyright holders will only intensify after new rules aimed at blocking online piracy kick in, according to media and legal experts.

They caution that tech-savvy users will find ways of getting around the block, while piracy sites could spawn mirror portals that will make enforcement a daunting challenge.

The warnings follow the announcement on April 7 that the Law Ministry is proposing legislation to allow content owners to ask the High Court for orders forcing Internet service providers, such as SingTel and StarHub, to ban access to piracy sites such as the infamous The Pirate Bay.

These sites allow users to illegally download films, TV shows and other content that would normally require payment.

The practice is rife in Singapore with estimates out last month suggesting that three in five people here illegally download videos.

Piracy has also been blamed for hitting music sales, which totalled $16.4 million last year, down from $29.8 million in 2009. Music piracy is also seen as a major threat to the survival of brick-and-mortar record shops.

If the law is introduced, Singapore traffic to piracy sites should fall significantly, according to the Swiss-based International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

IFPI's regional director for Asia, Mr Ang Kwee Tiang, told The Straits Times that site blocking has been effective in several European countries.

He noted that the use of The Pirate Bay fell 68 per cent between January 2012 and last December in countries where access was denied, including Austria, Britain, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands and South Korea.

But the picture is not so clear- cut when looking at individual countries.

A major British Internet service provider (ISP) told the BBC that immediately after a block was placed on The Pirate Bay in April 2012, piracy-linked activity on its network fell 11 per cent, but it climbed back to just below average levels within a week.

The ISP said this could have been due to dedicated file-sharers instead of casual users.

An appeals court in the Netherlands lifted a ban on The Pirate Bay by two Dutch ISPs in January. This was in part because research suggested that piracy actually rose instead of fell after The Pirate Bay was blocked, reported PC World, a computer magazine.

The Dutch court noted that downloaders were bypassing the block by using other file-sharing services or using virtual private networks (VPNs) that trick the blockade into thinking users are from other countries.

Mr Ang, whose federation represents more than 1,000 producers and distributors of sound recordings, admitted that any initial drop may be followed by "some moderate increase again once more 'hardcore' users find means to circumvent the blocks".

Still, experiences like those in the Netherlands "should not discourage us from at least giving (site blocking) a try", said Associate Professor Saw Cheng Lim from the Singapore Management University's School of Law. "There can be no foolproof measure in the fight against online piracy. The idea is to make life a little more troublesome for Net users who refuse to obtain copyrighted content legitimately."

As more casual downloaders are forced towards alternatives, remaining unblocked piracy sites could end up with higher traffic and slow speeds, said Mr Johnny Koh, 43, who has been using Apple's iTunes to rent movies since it launched here in 2012.

"It can be really easy and cheap to get good-quality legal (content) now. If it takes hours to download a movie from a piracy site, there's no point," added Mr Koh, the manager of a printing company.

Intellectual property lawyer Daniel Lim noted that the message the authorities send by banning access to sites could also increase awareness about the wrongs of piracy.

In Britain, nearly three in five people downloaded or streamed at least one piece of illegal content a year, according to media reports last September.

Experts believe education and easy access to affordable legal content should form the cornerstone of the fight against piracy.

Assistant Professor Liew Kai Khiun from Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information said more promotion of legal sites to consumers is needed. "It's not just about clamping down but how to promote content."

Prof Liew added that selling merchandise, and holding concerts and fan meets could also help and provide singers with new revenue streams.

Some consumers fear censorship could make getting legitimate content an issue. Life sciences research assistant Fong Guo Feng, 26, wants to buy the original Blu-ray discs for popular fantasy drama series Game Of Thrones but he is worried censored scenes for the local version - such as cuts for nudity and violence - could affect his understanding of the plot.

"People who are fans will want to watch the show in its original cut. Not making this cut available here could drive people to online piracy for it," he said.

What is The Pirate Bay?
- Founded in 2003 by Swedish anti-copyright group Piratbyran (The Bureau of Piracy, in English).
- Allows people to connect with one another to share files online.
- Intended to have more Scandinavian content, but by the end of 2004, 80 per cent of its users were from other parts of the world. In 2005, the site was redesigned and made available in several languages.
- In 2006, the Motion Picture Association of America asked Swedish authorities to take action against The Pirate Bay. Three days after its offices were raided, the site was up again with the help of volunteers around the world.
- In 2009, three co-founders of the site and a financier were convicted of assisting copyright infringement. After an appeal in 2010, they were jailed for between four and 12 months and fined a total of 46 million Swedish kronor (S$8.7 million).

More tech-savvy users may opt for VPN
The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2014

CHINESE Internet users have turned to virtual private networks (VPNs) to access sites blocked by their government, a ploy that could take hold here if new anti- piracy laws kick in.

VPNs work by making it seem that the user is accessing the site from another country, such as the United States, where the offending website is not blocked.

If the proposed new legislation - which would allow copyright holders to force Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to piracy sites - comes into force, more tech-savvy Singaporeans might opt for a VPN.

"By implementing (piracy site blocking), a lot of users will seek other options to bypass the blocks," said Singapore Polytechnic senior lecturer Samson Yeow of the School of Digital Media and Infocomm Technology.

Mr Julian Ma, chief executive of Computer Guys, an information technology firm, also tips a jump in VPN sign-ups but not at the level seen in China, where many social media sites, including Facebook, are blocked by what is colloquially known as the Great Firewall of China.

China was No. 4 in the world for using VPNs in the fourth quarter last year, according to market research firm GlobalWebIndex.

Consumers here might feel less strongly about not being able to access piracy sites as copyrighted content is available via legal means, such as Apple's iTunes or music streaming service Spotify.

While VPNs are not difficult to set up for a single device, they become tricky to establish across a series of computers and smartphones, said Mr Yeow.

The process involves tinkering with router settings, for instance, which could baffle many users.

Accessing a site via a VPN can also result in a "drastic drop in connection speeds", noted Mr Ma, perhaps by more than 90 per cent.

It is technically possible to block VPN services, so a court here may allow this to cut access to piracy sites.

But blocking a VPN service also stops access to legitimate content as a firewall cannot be targeted at specific sites in this case, said Mr Yeow.

Subscribing to a VPN account can cost $10 to $20 a month, with many popular providers based overseas, such as StrongVPN in the US.

* Proposed copyright law gets thumbs up
Move allows content owners to seek court orders to block offending sites
By Irene Tham, The Straits Times, 3 Jul 2014

CONTENT owners like cable TV networks have given a proposed copyright law aimed at piracy websites the thumbs up after a two-week-long public consultation exercise.

The proposed law - mooted in April and set to take effect by year end - would let content owners seek High Court orders to get Internet service providers (ISP) like SingTel or StarHub to block websites that “clearly and flagrantly infringe” copyright.

Content owners can now only request that ISPs block pirated content. They can sue these providers for copyright infringement if they do not comply. But this could mean months of litigation. The proposed amendments to the Copyright Act could shorten the process to just two months.

Content owners told The Straits Times the proposed law will make things easier for them.

For one thing, this means they would no longer face the bind of suing ISPs to force them to remove users’ access to pirated content, yet having to work with the same ISPs to distribute content on their pay-TV platforms.

“Seeking injunctions against ISPs is impractical for us, especially since two of the major ISPs here are also our platform partners,” said Ms Yvonne Tay, senior vice president and general manager of Fox International Channels Singapore. This is why content rights holders rarely pursue this path, she told The Straits Times.

Mr Arjan Hoekstra, president and managing director at Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, also praised the proposed law for recognising that the “online theft of content” has a negative impact on creativity and originality.

Intellectual property and technology lawyer Jonathan Kok, partner at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, said: “ISPs will respond more readily to a court order, considering that they also have consumers’ needs to answer to.”

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents more than 1,000 producers and distributors of sound recordings, took part in the consultation. Its regional director for Asia, Mr Ang Kwee Tiang, said the proposed law would absolve ISPs from liability, which is key to getting their cooperation.

When contacted, ISPs SingTel, StarHub and MyRepublic said they support the proposed law.

Some consumers do not think the new law will be effective. Said Trade magazine writer Melissa Chua, 30: “New sites pop up after one closes down.”

Teacher Kuang Jingkai, 32, said: “Instead of blocking sites or suing people, why not make it easier for people to buy content over the Web?”

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