Online company wins S'pore copyright appeal

Court of Appeal overturns previous court ruling and finds in favor of RecordTV which was sued for copyright violations by Singapore's national broadcaster MediaCorp.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

SINGAPORE--The Court of Appeal has found in favor of online startup RecordTV, which was sued for offering a service that national broadcaster MediaCorp said infringed on its copyright.

RecordTV allows registered users to record and view programs on free-to-air TV channels including MedicaCorp's Channel 5, Channel 8 and Channel NewsAsia on their personal computers. After its launch in July 2007, RecordTV received letters from MediaCorp carrying requests to stop its online service or face legal action for copyright infringement.

It prompted the Web site to initiate a lawsuit against the Singapore broadcaster in September 2007 for making groundless threats. MediaCorp countersued and won its case in the initial ruling, passed last December, and was awarded damages.

In the latest ruling, the Court of Appeal found in favor of RecordTV and awarded the online company costs and damages, as well as an injunction to prevent MediaCorp from making further threats.

In a statement, RecordTV CEO Carlos Fernandes said: "We are delighted by the ruling. After over three years of litigation, it is clear that MediaCorp's threats were unjustified. Today is a great day for entrepreneurs, consumers and innovators."

According to a report in local newspaper The Business Times, the appeal court said it considered how the local judiciary system "should interpret copyright legislation in light of the technological advances which have clear legitimate and beneficial uses for the public, but which may be circumscribed or stymied by expansive claims of copyright owners".

The court said RecordTV's online service, which allowed users to select and play back recorded programs on its Web site, was a "significant technological improvement over existing recording methods". It added that the service was an IT development currently not addressed by the country's Copyright Act regarding the content owner's exclusive right to copy, communicate to the public and authorize the copying and communication to the public of copyright-protected material.

The appeal court said RecordTV's service simply made it convenient for users to consume MediaCorp's programs.

"We are of the view that the public interest is better served by encouraging, rather than stifling, the use of RecordTV's novel technology, especially given that MediaCorp has not suffered any loss from RecordTV's provision of an additional and better time-shifting service to registered users who are licensed to view the MediaCorp shows," the Court of Appeal said in its judgment.

It added that since the broadcaster permitted the public to view its free-to-air programs and record them for their own private consumption, MediaCorp had already factored in its assumed "loss of revenue" with regard to its copyright to such content. The court noted that RecordTV's attempt to tap this did not make its actions illegal.

"In the result, we find that MediaCorp's threats to bring an action for copyright infringement against RecordTV are unjustifiable," the Court of Appeal said in its judgment.

Quoting Fernandes, The Business Times report said: "As an innovator, I am thrilled to see that I have redeemed myself. I was right and industry giant, MediaCorp, was, quite simply, wrong.

"As a citizen, I am baffled. Here, virtually every home in Singapore pays a TV tax to fund MediaCorp's public interest programming. But then they come out and claim that Singaporeans are 'infringing' when they record broadcasted content. Shouldn't they be pleased that more people are watching public interest programming?"

According to the report, MediaCorp said it will review the Court of Appeal's judgment before deciding on its next course of action.

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