Three-strikes piracy deterrent not for S'pore

Anti-piracy law won't be implemented in Singapore as existing laws are sufficient, and will also be difficult to implement, say industry watchers.

SINGAPORE--The government will not be adopting the "three-strikes" law just yet, since existing laws are already in place for appropriate action to be taken against illegal content-sharing offenders.

According to the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS), the country currently has no plans to introduce a graduated response system, or the three strikes law. If implemented, users repeatedly caught downloading content illegally will receive up to three warnings before their Internet access will be terminated. Countries including France and Britain have already approved similar legislation.

"The implementation of such laws in other countries are very new developments, and we are monitoring these developments as part of our regular environmental scan of the international copyright landscape," IPOS spokesperson Tan Mei Jue said in an e-mail interview, pointing to statement posted on the statutory board's Web site.

"Illegal downloading and illegal file-sharing are violations of copyright law in Singapore, and there are remedies in our copyright law for copyright holders to take appropriate legal action against copyright infringers," she added.

Tan noted that in an IPOS survey released in April 2009, more than 90 percent of online respondents said they were aware of Singapore's existing copyright law and its consequences. Nine out of 10 respondents also understood the importance of protecting intellectual property (IP) rights, she said. The two-part survey included a poll of 1,011 Singaporeans aged 15 years and above.

Cyril Chua, a partner at local law firm ATMD Bird & Bird and specializing in IP and technology, supported the stance taken by IPOS.

Describing the three-strikes law as "merely an additional obstacle", Chua said in an e-mail it would be a challenge tracking offenders in cases where, for instance, broadband access is shared by multiple users.

According to the lawyer, however, current Internet Service Providers (ISPs) liability provisions under the Copyright Act are not useful to "tackle downloads by end users".

Other ways to combat piracy
Chua noted that the best way to combat piracy is for the local police force, operating within the IP Rights branch, to take the lead.

This division has "all the powers under the Criminal Procedure Code to compel ISPs to disclose the identity of frequent downloaders of pirated materials", through which the police can conduct raids and get the necessary evidence to prosecute these offenders, he explained.

"All it would take is a few high-profile prosecutions. Once the public is aware that [illegal content] downloaders are prosecuted, they would stop," said Chua. "While some may claim that this is akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a pea, this is clearly the most effective method. The only unresolved issue is whether the police would have the bandwidth to handle such cases."

Other industry watchers are calling for education, rather than persecution, to rid online piracy.

CEO of music streaming service we7, Steve Purdham, is one such advocate. In an article he wrote for The Times last month, Purdham noted that learning from past mistakes to develop reasonable and sustainable models for providing music to consumers, is "more likely to reduce piracy than today's 'three-strikes' proposal".

"While there is room for some form of deterrent for repeat offenders, simply cutting people off is not the answer, and educating consumers about alternatives such as legitimate online streaming, would go much further to resolving the issue," said Purdham.

In a survey published by The Independent on earlier this month, respondents who admitted to illegally downloading music spent 33 pounds (US$54.9) annually more than people who do not. Commenting on this finding, Mark Mulligan, research director of Forrester Research, said in the article: "The people who file-share are the ones who are interested in music, [and they] use file-sharing as a discovery mechanism."