24 April 2017
Reporter: Barney Dixon

Singapore High Court reaches landmark privacy ruling

The Singapore High Court has thrown out two civil applications that could have infringed the privacy of the jurisdiction’s internet users.

In an oral decision delivered last week (17 April), the court dismissed applications from production companies QOTD Film Investment and Voltage Pictures, relating to their movies Queen of the Desert and Fathers & Daughters.

The companies asked the court to compel local internet service providers to release the details of subscribers who illegally downloaded the two movies.

Voltage was previously involved in similar litigation in Australia and the US over another movie, Dallas Buyers Club.

The film production company successfully acquired an order in 2015 from the Federal Court of Australia, which compelled six ISPs to hand over the details of customers who downloaded the movie without permission.

In the US, a federal court dismissed the application.

According to Lau Kok Keng, head of intellectual property, sports and gaming at Rajah & Tann, the Singapore High Court found that the studios failed to establish the link between IP addresses and the downloader and prove that it was the registered account holder who had committed the infringement.

But Keng said that requiring the rights owner to find this connection “is like putting the cart before the horse”.

“Until you know who is the holder of the account which has been used to download infringing copies, you will not be able to establish with certainty, if the holder of the account is indeed the one who engaged in the downloading.“

He added: “Disallowing access to information on the identity of the account holder effectively puts an end to any enforcement action which can be taken against the culprits.”

While a landmark decision, Keng says the ruling “could mean that individuals who illegally download copyrighted content will henceforth be able to get off scot-free with their activities, because their identities will never be known, short of being caught in the act”.

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