Content Cafe


Illegal Subscriptions: When an offer seems to good to be true

by Content Cafe — December 16, 2020

Just like in Australia, Illicit Streaming Devices (ISD’s) have become enormously popular in Singapore over the past few years. The Singapore Government has set an example for many international countries by swiftly addressing the growing problem and taking a tough stance against ISD sellers.

When the devices, such as Android boxes, made their appearance they quickly became popular with Singaporeans who were astounded that they could access Netflix, Singtel, Amazon or premium sports channels at no cost.

The offer simply seemed too good to be true. As the story unfolds, it was too good to be true.

ISD boxes are not standalone devices; they are often preloaded with unauthorised apps which are the terminal end of international pirate broadcast networks. These devices allow users to download apps that enable them to pirate films, TV shows and sports programs. However, the owners of the apps are not the copyright holders or the licensed broadcasters of the content they are sharing with users.

A study commissioned by then Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA) in 2017, found that 40% of viewers in Singapore watch pirated content. A YouGov survey in 2018 also revealed that 20% of Singapore consumers used a TV box that could stream pirated content while another 28% cancelled their subscriptions to a local online video service after purchasing an ISD.

According to London-based Muso TNT, Singapore ranked ninth in the number of visits per internet user to piracy websites, revealing the shocking statistics behind rampant copyright theft in Singapore.

The Singapore Government recognised that current laws did not accurately address the problem of ISDs and have recently taken a strong enforcement approach with legislation that bans the sale of these illegal devices.

A three-year review by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS), commenced in August 2016 and has involved numerous public consultations, town hall meetings and engagement sessions. Over 100 formal submissions and more than 280 online feedback forms were submitted by a range of stakeholders including consumers, businesses, industry and trade associations, intellectual property law practitioners and academics.

In 2019, two retailers who sold Android streaming boxes and illegally broadcast Premier League football and other entertainment content, were charged in court under the Copyright Act. A record fine of SGD $160,800 (AUD$160,000) indicated just how seriously these offences were being taken by the authorities.

Premier League director of legal services Kevin Plumb reminded offenders that, “…the Premier League will prosecute those responsible for the piracy of our content… this is not a grey area and that selling these devices is against the law.”

Singaporean ISD sellers and consumers are realising that quality screen entertainment and sports programming, available via subscription or advertising services, does not – nor will ever – come for free.