TL;DR – It’s sorta legal, but not really.
In the Pirates of the Caribbean, Singapore was portrayed as a hideout of pirates. Apparently, in 21st century, that’s not too far from the truth. Entertainment titans such as Walt Disney, HBO, the National Basketball Association and the English Premier League have called Singapore a haven for pirating copyrighted programming.
Neil Gane, General Manger of the Coalition Against Piracy, which has 21 members that include divisions of Sony Corp and Twenty-First Century Fox Inc, said:
“Within the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore is the worst in terms of availability of illicit streaming devices”
So, what are these devices that Mr Gane is talking about?
To find out, all you need to do is to take a walk around Sim Lim Square.
They are these set-top boxes connect televisions to the internet. They are legal. But because they are connected to the internet, and are operating on an Android platform, there are apps that allow users to stream thousands of movies, TV shows and live sporting events for free.
The Singaporean in us will of course be cheering! There’s that magic word.
No need to pay subscription to Starhub or Singtel also can watch free Premier league wor. And all those movies. And even those Netflix originals! All FREE!
Ok lah. Not say absolutely free. You need to pay for your internet connection. And you need to actually pay for the box. But those aren’t that expensive. You can get them from Sim Lim. Those will come pre-loaded with the apps that allow you to stream the shows you want. Those cost anywhere from $100 to $400.Too expensive? You can get cheaper ones from e-commerce sites like Lazada. Those won’t come pre-loaded with the apps you need to stream the shows you want.
Are these set-top boxes legal?
According to Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS), only devices that can decode signals from Singtel and StarHub subscription services are illegal. In May 2014, two men were charged under the Broadcasting Act for dealing in those illegal set-top boxes.
But these set-top boxes sold at Sim Lim Square and on e-commerce sites are different. IPOS said:
“Our position has not changed. The devices highlighted in (the 2014 incident) were designed to decode encrypted broadcast signals, allowing users full access to TV programmes without paying subscription fees. In such a scenario, copyright infringement is an issue as the devices were used in a manner that is illegal”
But Mr Gane begs to differ:
“What are predominantly sold in Sim Lim Square and at Singapore’s many IT exhibitions are illicit streaming devices preloaded with piracy enabling applications. They are not ‘empty’ and therefore ‘legal’ boxes”
The courts in countries such as United Kingdom and United States have recognised the sale of these devices – preloaded with applications allowing for access to pirated content – as illegal.
That sounds like it’s OK to get one of those set-top boxes that is empty. And it’s actually not that difficult to set up those boxes with the right apps to stream (most of) the content you want. All you need to do is to google it. There are so many YouTube videos and links that would teach you how to do it.
Can the government do anything about it?
What do you think? Even without these boxes and apps, there are so many websites on the internet that allow you to stream shows from. Even if you block one app or one website, a few more will pop up. Stop the boxes from coming in, something else will take their place.
The only way for the government to stop people from streaming content through these boxes and apps is to completely cut off all Singaporean’s access to Internet. In other words, unless the government abandons its ambitions of turning Singapore into a Smart Nation, there is no way to stop people from getting those set-top boxes, install those apps and stream content.
So what can be done? Perhaps industry players should focus their attention on providing service and content that is so good and affordable that consumers are willing to pay. That’s the real Smart Nation way of tackling this situation.