Four years ago, Singapore became the latest in a long line of countries to use copyright law to block access to ‘pirate’ sites. The amendments were passed during the summer of 2014 and took effect in December the same year.
After a break of almost two years, a request by the MPA(A) rendered Solarmovie.ph inaccessible in 2016. Several major ISPs were ordered by the High Court to block the streaming platform, the first such action in the country.
In April this year the MPA(A) chalked up another victory when its application to have 53 sites operating across 154 domains – including those operated by variants of The Pirate Bay and KickassTorrents – was granted by the High Court. ISPs including Singtel, StarHub, M1, MyRepublic and ViewQwest blocked the sites shortly after.
The blocking process in Singapore appears to be thorough. The High Court must be satisfied that sites targeted are “flagrantly infringing”, i.e with a primary purpose of breaching copyright and generally showing a lack of respect for copyright law. Site operators are also able to defend themselves although thus far, none have done so.
With plenty of experience of sites around the world taking evasive counter-measures to avoid blocking, the injunction in Singapore allowed copyright holders to return to Court to request an amended order to block new domains and/or IP addresses. However, this model has proven cumbersome in the past so it’s no surprise the MPA(A) has now persuaded the Court to adopt a more streamlined approach.
After highlighting that several of the blocked sites changed their domains to avoid blocking, the High Court has now handed down a “dynamic injunction” which will allow the Hollywood studios to block any new methods deployed by the 53 sites covered by the earlier injunction.
“Without a continuing obligation to block additional domain names, URLs and/or IP addresses upon being informed of such sites, it is unlikely that there would be effective disabling of access to the 53 (infringing websites),” said Justice Lee Seiu Kin, as quoted by TodayOnline.
Under the terms of the new order, companies including Disney, Paramount Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox, will be able to liaise with ISPs M1, MyRepublic, Singtel, StarHub and ViewQwest to have additional domains and IP addresses blocked, if they facilitate access to the previously blocked sites.
According to Justice Lee, the new injunction “provides a practical means of ensuring the continued effectiveness of the original injunction since it provides an expedited process for the blocking of additional (piracy websites).”
The Judge added that ISPs will only have to block the new resources if they are satisfied there is enough evidence to do so but according to TodayOnline, this was highlighted as potentially problematic by local lawyers.
“It is questionable if this is a good enough safeguard when the most expeditious way for an Internet service provider to respond, upon receipt of a request to block an additional domain name, would simply be to comply with the request, rather than to incur the time and cost of disputing the matter with the copyright owner,” said representatives from the Bird & Bird law firm.
Nevertheless, the judgment was welcomed by Neil Gane, general manager of the Asia Video Industry Association’s Coalition Against Piracy.
“There is no one silver bullet to deterring online piracy,” Gane said. “What is required is a holistic solution to include enforcement; disabling access to egregious piracy websites through effective site blocking; cooperation with technology platforms and other intermediaries; and consumer outreach.”
According to a report published by the Motion Picture Association Canada earlier this year, at least 42 countries are now obligated to block infringing sites. In Europe alone, 1,800 sites and 5,300 domains have been rendered inaccessible, with Portugal, Italy, the UK, and Denmark leading the way.
In Canada this week, site-blocking efforts suffered a setback when local telecoms regulator CRTC denied FairPlay Canada’s application for a broad pirate site blocking scheme. CRTC cited a lack of jurisdiction under the Telecommunications Act.