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Media streaming boxes with "add-on" services will soon be banned


(Photo: Lianhe Zaobao)

New laws will be tabled in Parliament some time this year to ban the sale of media streaming boxes with "add-on" services that help consumers access pirated content.

This clarity comes on the heels of a three-year review by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) of copyright laws here.

The legality of media streaming boxes has been a grey and contentious area as copyright holders have found it difficult to apply many of the usual legal avenues created in the DVD era against set-top box retailers that benefit from the sale of "add-on" services.

"We are of the view that legislative amendments are needed to both clarify our policy position and the actions that can be taken against retailers of such set-top boxes," said MinLaw in its Copyright Review Report issued on Thursday (Jan 17).

"The measures, which are absent today, will make clear that acts such as the import and sale of such devices are prohibited," said the ministry in a separate statement.

The review involves two public consultations, three town hall meetings and 10 engagement sessions conducted since August 2016.

Feedback from various stakeholders - including consumers, industry and trade associations, businesses, intellectual property law practitioners and academics - were sought.

Close to 100 formal submissions and more than 280 online feedback forms were received by MinLaw and Ipos.

The new laws will impose civil and criminal liability on people who wilfully distribute or sell a product that can be used to access pirated content if the product is designed for such access or advertised as such.

It will also be illegal to sell a generic device with "add-on" services - such as supplying website links or subscription services to pirated content.

The Copyright Act was enacted in 1987, with major revisions last made in 2014 to allow 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.

Last November, the High Court ordered eight new piracy websites and any others related to them to be blocked, bringing the total number of such websites blocked to just over 60.

However, there was no move to ban the applications in media streaming boxes, also known as Android boxes, and the boxes themselves.

Written by Irene Tham for The Straits Times.