Music and movie firms back website-blocking

The music and movie industries have moved to support website-blocking - made easier under Singapore's recently amended Copyright Act - following criticism that it was not effective.

Earlier this week, Hollywood studio Voltage Pictures said website-blocking was "not an effective method of copyright protection" as it defended its controversial move to go after Internet users here for illegally sharing its film Dallas Buyers Club.

The comment came as a surprise to other content owners as they had supported the notion of a law to allow website-blocking before it finally took effect last December.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents more than 1,000 producers and distributors of sound recordings, will use the new law, which it said "has the desired deterrent effect".

Its regional director for Asia, Mr Ang Kwee Tiang, said: "We are looking into the procedural and evidential requirements."

The amended Copyright Act lets content owners seek a High Court order to get Internet service providers (ISPs) to block piracy websites. Before the revised law, they could not compel ISPs to block pirated content.

The Motion Picture Association (MPA) - whose members include Walt Disney, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox - also said it will be seeking to block infringing content in Singapore. Its Asia-Pacific president and managing director, Mr Mike Ellis, said: "These measures are already, and successfully, being used in many jurisdictions to tackle illegal sites."

The MPA won a High Court ruling in the UK late last year to block 53 websites, bringing the total number of British sites blocked by court order to 93.

But site-blocking does not totally stamp out illegal downloading as most piracy websites have "proxy" Web addresses, or alternative addresses, that can take users to the blocked content.

Even so, any remaining illegal downloading would still be "insignificant", compared with the traffic piracy sites would have generated if they had not been blocked, said Mr Ellis.

The ease of circumventing website-blocking is why Voltage Pictures chose to go after end-users here. Its local representative, Samuel Seow Law Corporation, said going after individuals sharing files on the Internet is "the only real option" for copyright holders.

Intellectual property lawyer Koh Chia Ling at ATMD Bird & Bird said many copyright owners target distributors rather than consumers. But there is a dilemma when consumers facilitate distribution. Mr Koh said that educating consumers on the need to buy legitimate content "should be the main strategy".

The Ministry of Law said: "Site-blocking enables action to be taken against a website instead of multiple actions against individual end-users. While site-blocking may have its limitations, the experience in some countries has shown that it is effective in reducing piracy levels."

This article was first published on April 18, 2015.
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