Pulling the plug on online piracy

Pulling the plug on online piracy

The cat-and-mouse game between downloaders and copyright holders will only intensify after new rules aimed at blocking online piracy kick in, according to media and legal experts.

They caution that tech-savvy users will find ways of getting around the block, while piracy sites could spawn mirror portals that will make enforcement a daunting challenge.

The warnings follow the announcement on April 7 that the Law Ministry is proposing legislation to allow content owners to ask the High Court for orders forcing Internet service providers, such as SingTel and StarHub, to ban access to piracy sites such as the infamous The Pirate Bay.

These sites allow users to illegally download films, TV shows and other content that would normally require payment.

The practice is rife in Singapore with estimates out last month suggesting that three in five people here illegally download videos.

Piracy has also been blamed for hitting music sales, which totalled $16.4 million last year, down from $29.8 million in 2009. Music piracy is also seen as a major threat to the survival of brick-and-mortar record shops.

If the law is introduced, Singapore traffic to piracy sites should fall significantly, according to the Swiss-based International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

IFPI's regional director for Asia, Mr Ang Kwee Tiang, told The Straits Times that site blocking has been effective in several European countries.

He noted that the use of The Pirate Bay fell 68 per cent between January 2012 and last December in countries where access was denied, including Austria, Britain, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands and South Korea.

But the picture is not so clear- cut when looking at individual countries.

A major British Internet service provider (ISP) told the BBC that immediately after a block was placed on The Pirate Bay in April 2012, piracy-linked activity on its network fell 11 per cent, but it climbed back to just below average levels within a week.

The ISP said this could have been due to dedicated file-sharers instead of casual users.

An appeals court in the Netherlands lifted a ban on The Pirate Bay by two Dutch ISPs in January. This was in part because research suggested that piracy actually rose instead of fell after The Pirate Bay was blocked, reported PC World, a computer magazine.

The Dutch court noted that downloaders were bypassing the block by using other file-sharing services or using virtual private networks (VPNs) that trick the blockade into thinking users are from other countries.

Mr Ang, whose federation represents more than 1,000 producers and distributors of sound recordings, admitted that any initial drop may be followed by "some moderate increase again once more 'hardcore' users find means to circumvent the blocks".

Still, experiences like those in the Netherlands "should not discourage us from at least giving (site blocking) a try", said Associate Professor Saw Cheng Lim from the Singapore Management University's School of Law. "There can be no foolproof measure in the fight against online piracy. The idea is to make life a little more troublesome for Net users who refuse to obtain copyrighted content legitimately."

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