Under increasing pressure from copyright holders, in 2014 Singapore passed amendments to copyright law that allow ISPs to block ‘pirate’ sites.
“The prevalence of online piracy in Singapore turns customers away from legitimate content and adversely affects Singapore’s creative sector,” said then Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah.
“It can also undermine our reputation as a society that respects the protection of intellectual property.”
After the amendments took effect in December 2014, there was a considerable pause before any websites were targeted. However, in September 2016, at the request of the MPA(A), Solarmovie.ph became the first website ordered to be blocked under Singapore’s amended Copyright Act. The High Court subsequently ordering several major ISPs to disable access to the site.
A new wave of blocks announced this morning are the country’s most significant so far, with dozens of ‘pirate’ sites targeted following a successful application by the MPAA earlier this year.
In total, 53 sites across 154 domains – including those operated by The Pirate Bay plus KickassTorrents and Solarmovie variants – have been rendered inaccessible by ISPs including Singtel, StarHub, M1, MyRepublic and ViewQwest.
“In Singapore, these sites are responsible for a major portion of copyright infringement of films and television shows,” an MPAA spokesman told The Straits Times (paywall).
“This action by rights owners is necessary to protect the creative industry, enabling creators to create and keep their jobs, protect their works, and ensure the continued provision of high-quality content to audiences.”
Before granting a blocking injunction, the High Court must satisfy itself that the proposed online locations meet the threshold of being “flagrantly infringing”. This means that a site like YouTube, which carries a lot of infringing content but is not dedicated to infringement, would not ordinarily get caught up in the dragnet.
Sites considered for blocking must have a primary purpose to infringe, a threshold that is tipped in copyright holders’ favor when the sites’ operators display a lack of respect for copyright law and have already had their domains blocked in other jurisdictions.
The Court also weighs a number of additional factors including whether blocking would place an unacceptable burden on the shoulders of ISPs, whether the blocking demand is technically possible, and whether it will be effective.
In common with other regions such as the UK and Australia, for example, sites targeted for blocking must be informed of the applications made against them, to ensure they’re given a chance to defend themselves in court. No fully-fledged ‘pirate’ site has ever defended a blocking application in Singapore or indeed any jurisdiction in the world.
Finally, should any measures be taken by ‘pirate’ sites to evade an ISP blockade, copyright holders can apply to the Singapore High Court to amend the blocking order. This is similar to the Australian model where each application must be heard on its merits, rather than the UK model where a more streamlined approach is taken.
According to a recent report by Motion Picture Association Canada, 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, where copyright holders are lobbying hard for a site-blocking regime of their own, there’s pressure to avoid the “uncertain, slow and expensive” route of going through the courts.