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Comment on potential action by film studio against innocent Internet users

The rights owners of two Hollywood movies (Queen Of The Desert and Fathers And Daughters) have started legal proceedings against illegal downloaders here and are seeking pretrial disclosure of Internet protocol (IP) addresses. In an unusual move, the Attorney-General’s Chambers has indicated that it will oversee the process to prevent abuse. Our Internet Society (Singapore Chapter) has also contributed to the discussion on this action.

Last year, we (Internet Society Singapore Chapter) formally complained to the Law Society of Singapore that two lawyers (from the same law firm in the current matter) had issued letters threatening criminal proceedings, fines and prison, against people who they accused of pirating the film Dallas Buyers Club. This type of threat is not allowed under the Law Society’s Practice Directions here. You can read our detailed reasons and the complaint at this page. We also conducted a workshop to educate the public:  Copyright End User Infringement Workshop: A view from both sides of the fence

The Law Society of Singapore replied that their inquiry committee has decided that a formal investigation by a disciplinary tribunal is not necessary, but the lawyers “should be given a warning, reprimand or order to pay a penalty of not more than S$10,000”. More details are available in this news report from the TODAY newspaper

Now that the same law firm appears to be starting similar legal proceedings again, we have written to the national newspapers to share our views and concerns. A version of the article below appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2016, with the headline ‘Don’t punish innocent Internet users‘.


Don’t punish innocent Internet users

The Internet Society (Singapore Chapter) views with concern and interest the various news reports that the rights owners of two Hollywood movies – Queen Of The Desert and Fathers And Daughters – have started legal proceedings against illegal downloaders here and are seeking pretrial disclosure of Internet protocol (IP) addresses.

While we do not condone copyright infringement, we are concerned that a potentially large number of lawsuits may be filed on the basis of IP addresses sought.

Recent cases from other jurisdictions have ruled that IP addresses do not sufficiently identify which individuals committed copyright infringement.

It is entirely plausible that some of the IP addresses may belong to innocent home or business owners who were not aware that their IP addresses were used or who may have not secured their networks sufficiently at the material time.

We question the fairness of subjecting them to the stress and cost in time and money of defending themselves against legal claims.

We are pleased that the Attorney-General’s Chambers has indicated that it will oversee the process to prevent abuse (“AGC steps in as studios seek illegal downloaders“; Wednesday).

We note also that our previous complaint to the Law Society regarding letters of demand sent to alleged downloaders of the movie Dallas Buyers Club resulted in the Law Society finding that the letters sent by the law firm did infringe the Law Society’s ethical standard, by threatening criminal proceedings, fines and prison time against people who they accused of pirating that film.

The Law Society’s findings imposed a penalty of $10,000 or reprimand upon the law firm.

Since the acts of those lawyers in question were adjudged to have crossed acceptable boundaries, we have asked the Law Society to advise on the status of the alleged infringers.

A clear determination by the Law Society may help delineate the boundaries of acceptable conduct by lawyers and law firms here.

Finally, while the rights holders appear to be preparing to sue individuals, we suggest using the blocking provisions that were added to the Singapore Copyright Act last year. They are a self-help remedy to stop massively infringing sites, and will avoid mistakenly targeting innocent Internet users.

In conclusion, while we support the rights of copyright owners, we urge caution so that innocent Internet users are not adversely affected by their actions.

Ang Peng Hwa (Professor)
President
Internet Society (Singapore Chapter)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2016, with the headline ‘Don’t punish innocent Internet users‘.

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