The Internet Society (Singapore) has filed a complaint against the local law firm representing Hollywood studio Voltage Pictures, saying it is "bullying" alleged illegal downloaders of its movie Dallas Buyers Club into paying settlement fees.
The complaint, filed with the Law Society late last week, centres on Samuel Seow Law Corp's two lawyers having breached ethical guidelines with the use of threats of criminal proceedings in demand letters sent to Internet users.
Mr Harish Pillay, president of the Internet Society (Singapore), said the non-profit organisation - which promotes the use of the Internet - does not condone illegal downloading. But he added: "It is not fair to threaten people who are not trained in the law with criminal proceedings in a letter to further civil claims."
The first batch of letters, penned by lawyers Robert Raj and Lee Heng Eam, was sent out in early April to 77 M1 Internet subscribers.
Urging aggrieved subscribers to complain to the Law Society, Mr Pillay said that such threats amount to "bullying". He added: "We have to make a stand and urge the relevant authorities to enforce the ethical boundaries which have already been set."
The letters, seen by The Straits Times, spell out a maximum fine of $50,000 or imprisonment not exceeding three years, or both, under Section 136(3) of the Copyright Act. It also specified a maximum fine of $20,000 or a maximum jail term of six months, or both, under Section 136(3A) of the Act.
However, the Law Society's Practice Directions and Rulings 1989 - a set of ethical guidelines for lawyers - states: "It is improper for a solicitor to communicate in writing or otherwise a threat of criminal proceedings in order to achieve a stated objective in any circumstance." The Law Society declined to comment on whether it has received the complaint.
Mr Samuel Seow, managing director of Samuel Seow Law Corp, is distancing himself from the case. "I have been advised by the lawyers concerned that the letter is not in breach of the Law Society's practice directions," he said.
Last week, more demand letters - possibly hundreds - were sent to Singtel and StarHub users.
Seen by The Straits Times, theyrefer to the same criminal proceedings but the threats are "more implicitly worded", according to intellectual property lawyer Cyril Chua of ATMD Bird & Bird.
The three Internet service providers - Singtel, StarHub and M1 - were compelled by the Singapore High Court to release subscribers' details linked to some 500 Singapore Internet protocol addresses at which the movie was allegedly downloaded.
Mr Seow declined to reveal how many Internet users have offered to pay damages and whether their offers have been accepted.
A Straits Times check with the courts yesterday showed that no writ of summons has been filed against any illegal downloader here. Meanwhile, those who have received the letter of demand can seek free legal advice from the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore's IP Legal Clinic.
This article was first published on June 23, 2015.
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