Sale of set-top boxes with pirated streams to be made illegal

Individuals face fines of up to $100,000, up to 5 years' jail or both

Selling set-top boxes that offer access to pirated online streams of movies and television shows will soon be outlawed, with gaps plugged to make it harder for retailers to evade legal action.

These are among the proposed changes to the Copyright Act tabled in Parliament by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) yesterday, as part of efforts to strengthen the copyright regime in Singapore.

The criminal penalties are also clearly spelt out, unlike now which depends on the situation. If found guilty under the proposed amendments, individuals can be fined up to $100,000, jailed for up to five years, or both. For entities such as companies, they can be fined up to $200,000.

The move to tighten the Copyright Act also means retailers can be sued by owners who have rights to the shows or movies.

The suggested amendments do not just cover set-top boxes and streamed shows, but apply to any commercial dealings of copyright-infringing works through devices or services, including offers to sell such works.

This means that rights owners can take legal action against retailers who offer pirated music, shows or software - or access to such content - through not just set-top boxes or other devices but also software applications. The offender could be ordered to stop sales or compensate the rights owners if they suffered losses.

MinLaw noted that, currently, the Copyright Act does not account for more recent technological developments. They include set-top boxes or other streaming devices and services that allow people to access content from illegal sources.

This means that retailers can take advantage of this ambiguity to sell such devices for profit. Consumers are often misled into thinking that the content accessed is legal, said a spokesman from the ministry. And, in some cases, they are led to believe that the device subscription charges they pay for go to the rights holders.

The illegal streaming boxes can cost a few hundred dollars.

Content providers, cable broadcasters and associations representing them have raised these issues with MinLaw and highlighted the evolving ways these set-top boxes are marketed and sold.

While court actions have been taken in the past, whether or not the Copyright Act can be applied in all the different situations "remains unclear, given the lack of explicit provisions on this issue", said the spokesman.

The proposed Copyright Act changes also mean that even if retailers sell a "clean" device without the offending streaming apps, but offer to load them as an extra service, or include instructions on how to modify the device to watch shows online illegally, they will likely fall foul of the law.

Retailers also cannot install apps onto a consumer's gadget to watch pirated shows online.

MinLaw said the changes are meant "to encourage consumption of copyright works from legitimate sources".

If the Copyright Act changes are passed in Parliament, MinLaw expects most of the provisions to kick in around November.

Sharing a video? You may have to credit creator or performer soon

Sharing or posting a video of a quirky dance performance online in Singapore, or a photo of a painting from an art gallery here, will soon require the performer or creator to be identified and credited, under proposed changes to the law.

This applies not just to commercial entities and public figures, but general members of the public, too, according to changes to the Copyright Act tabled by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) in Parliament yesterday.

The requirement does not apply to past public uses of such works. It will apply to future uses only after most provisions in the amendments come into force - if they are passed in Parliament - in November.

The attribution has to be done in a clear and reasonably prominent manner, said MinLaw.

Some legal experts believe that changes are not meant to go after the man in the street. Still, there are concerns they could stifle some public conversations.

Under the proposed changes, if a person does not credit the creator of a work that he uses publicly, the creator can ask to be identified.

And if the person refuses to do so, the creator can take legal action to get credited or have the work taken down, as well as seek financial compensation from the person if potential income loss can be shown.

Works that require crediting include literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, which can include sculptures and films.

Attribution will be needed for performances such as dances and book or poetry recitals.

Under the current Copyright Act, creators and performers do not have the right to be identified when their work or performance is used.

They have the right only to stop their work or performance from being falsely attributed to another person.

Mr Adrian Tan, head of intellectual property at law firm TSMP Law Corporation, said the changes are meant to address problems in the commercial world, where businesses profit from the creative efforts of artists without acknowledging them.

He said that for members of the public who, for instance, share photos of artwork on Facebook with friends, it is unlikely that the creators will come down on them to get credited.

"Ordinary social media users can carry on doing what they've been doing," he said. - KENNY CHEE