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Bane of Our Age: COVID-19 outbreak leads to jump in illegal streaming but no locking down of content pirates

It is really galling for streaming channels like Prime Video, Discovery or Disney+ & Hotstar to spend substantial amounts of money on producing compelling original content, only to see it being blatantly broadcast almost immediately by some nondescript website or torrent site, in flagrant violation of copyright laws. And to see the content pirates blithely get away scot-free with their theft because the laws have far too many loopholes to enable them to wriggle their way out.

Global film piracy the world over increased by over 33% during the outbreak of Covid-19 last year when a lockdown was in place. Particularly, the use of illegal streaming and download sites for film was up 41.4% in the US and 42.5% in the UK in the last seven days of March 2020, compared with the final seven days of February. 

Pirate site usage has increased in other European nations as well, as seen for the piracy figures for Italy (up 66% during the same period), Spain (higher by 50.4%) and Germany (a rise of 35.5%).  These are massive increases on bases that are reasonably large in size.

In Singapore, 17% of all consumers, and nearly a third of consumers aged between 18-24 years, access streaming piracy websites or torrent sites, according to a survey commissioned last year by the Asia Video Industry Association’s (AVIA) Coalition Against Piracy (CAP) and conducted by YouGov. And of which, 10% of consumers used an illicit streaming device (ISD) to stream pirated content. 

Despite the unhealthy appetite for accessing piracy services, the survey also found that 86% of those surveyed recognised that online piracy had negative consequences. Other results showed 53% of online consumers were of the view that online piracy increases the risk of malware infections on devices, 52% recognised that crime groups benefit financially from the stolen content, and 42% were concerned that piracy puts the livelihoods of those who work in the creative industry at risk. 

To combat content piracy, the Singapore High Court granted an order sought by a consortium consisting of BBC Studios, Discovery, the Premier League, La Liga and TVB for Singapore’s Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to 17 domains associated with piracy streaming sites and 41 domains associated with ISD applications in June last year. These apps are preloaded on ISDs, which are sold in retail outlets and on e-markets. 

Neil Gane, General Manager of the Asia Video Industry Association’s (AVIA) Coalition Against Piracy (CAP), commented: “Consumers who buy ISDs or access piracy streaming sites are not only funding crime groups, but also wasting their time and money when the channels and websites stop working. Piracy services do not come with a ‘service guarantee’, no matter what the ISD seller or website operators may claim.” 

To better strengthen the copyright regime in Singapore, new rights and remedies have been introduced into the updated Copyright Act, which has been tabled in Parliament by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw). This will enable consumers and the government to stay abreast of changes on how content is created, distributed and used. 

For instance, a new right to be identified will require users to acknowledge the creator or performer when using their materials in public, including when they are distributed online. This aims to help individual creators and performers to be acknowledged for the creation of their works. Furthermore, creators of photographs, portraits, engravings, sound recordings and films, whether commissioned or otherwise, will by default be the first owner of copyright, empowering them to be better positioned to negotiate with the commissioning parties, and can further showcase and commercialise their works for other purposes. 

Another change proposed in the new bill is that right owners may take legal action against anyone, including retailers, who knowingly engages in commercial dealings with devices or services – such as set-top boxes (STBs) or software applications – which have the commercially significant purpose of facilitating access to copyright infringing works. 

Under the current Singapore’s Copyright Act, there are no provisions as to whether distributors and retailers of products and services which stream audio-visual content from unauthorised sources are liable for infringement of copyright. Hence, the new Bill acts to deter people from profiting off products and services which stream content from unauthorised sources. 

If the Bill is passed in Parliament, MinLaw expects most of the provisions to become operative from November this year.

Question: Will this be enough to spell the death-knell for the content piracy industry? If not, what else is needed to arrest the ongoing illegal streaming of content?

Your views are most welcome. Please send your comments to maven@editecintl.com

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