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Singapore Android TV sellers face copyright infringement charges

Two companies have been brought to Singapore's state courts over a piracy lawsuit filed by four companies that include local pay TV operators Singtel and StarHub.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Four companies have filed a copyright lawsuit against two Android TV box sellers in Singapore, sparking interest in what may be a landmark ruling on a long-debated issue regarding streaming devices.

Synnex Trading and An-Nahl as well as their respective directors were charged in the country's state courts for allegedly breaching various infringement offences outlined in the Copyright Act's Section 136 (3A). If found guilty, they would face fines of up to S$20,000 or imprisonment of up to six months, or both.

The two companies were alleged to have sold or for having "illicit streaming devices (IDSs)" designed to to make copies of licensed content.

Singapore telcos and pay TV operators Singtel and StarHub, as well as content owners Fox Networks Group and Premier League, had filed the copyright lawsuit, which listed Neil Kevin Gane as the complainant, according to the Singapore State Courts' website. [A correction was made to this portion of the article. Please refer to details below.]

Although Gane is the general manager of the Coalition Against Piracy (CAP), lawyers representing the case for the four companies have clarified to say CAP is not involved in the case. The lawyers are Nigel Bay and Lim Ren Jun from Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow.

Formed only in October 2017, the industry consortium comprised telcos and content producers that aimed to combat piracy in Southeast Asia. CAP members included all four companies involved in the Singapore lawsuit--StarHub, Singtel, Fox Networks Group, and Premier League--as well as other industry players such as Sony Pictures Television Networks Asia, HBO Asia, and BBC Worldwide.

Gane had said during the official launch event at CASBAA Convention in November: "Two immediate priorities will be the disruption of the ISD ecosystem at its source and enhanced intermediary engagement, with both e-commerce platforms and financial processors, to disrupt transactions at the point of sale. Disrupting illicit commercial transactions is a key component of any anti-piracy strategy."

While the sale of media streaming devices such as Android TV boxes, some priced as low as S$220, is not deemed illegal in Singapore, they often are bundled with apps that provide access to content that may be licensed exclusively for distribution by local pay TV operators. These operators provide their own set-top boxes, which are encoded.

Unsurprisingly, the devices had been the bane of pay TV operators and content owners, which had described the illicit streaming via these devices as alarming and a serious threat to the creative industry.

CASBAA (Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia), which established the CAP, last September released a survey that found 39 percent of Singapore online users admitted to streaming or downloading illegal content. Some 14 percent said they used streaming media devices to do so, revealed the study, which polled 1,000 respondents in the country and 300 local users of streaming devices.

CASBAA Chief Policy Officer John Medeiros said: "Admitted usage of TV boxes that provide illegal access to TV series, movies, and live sports events is much greater in Singapore than in other developed markets, such as the US and UK.

"In the world of digital piracy, it's simply not possible to stop every scoundrel in every part of the world from stealing files, or streams, created by others and reselling them. The goal of fighting piracy has to be a mass-market focus: to raise the cost and hassle of obtaining pirate feeds to the point where the mass of people decide it's really easier and more cost-effective to subscribe for legal content supply. That's where we need to get to, in Asia," Medeiros said.

According to a March 2017 study by Irdeto, 61 percent in Asia-Pacific confessed to watching pirated content, compared to 45 percent in Europe, 32 percent in the US, and 70 percent in Latin America. The study noted that consumers in both Europe and the US had more access to content they wanted, hence, reducing the need for them to hunt out pirated content.

Both Synnex Trading and An-Nahl were set to appear in court again later this month and in February.

Correction: An earlier version stated CAP had filed the lawsuit. This is incorrect. While Neil Kevin Gane is general manager of CAP and is listed as the complainant, he represents the four companies that brought the charges to court. CAP is not involved in this lawsuit, according to lawyers involved in the case. We apologise for the error.

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