Malaysia court rules sale of illicit streaming devices as copyright infringement

The Intellectual Property High Court in Kuala Lumpur has declared that the sale, offer for sale, distribution and/or supply of TV boxes or illicit streaming devices (ISDs) that can provide unauthorised access to copyrighted works, constitutes copyright infringement under the Copyright Act 1987. The action in the Intellectual Property High Court was brought by Measat Broadcast Networks, Astro's service provider, against a seller of ISDs preloaded with applications that act as gateways to websites or content servers streaming pirated content.

Astro lauded the High Court's judgement as "a bold step in the right direction against piracy in Malaysia". Its director, regulatory Laila Saat said the judgement sets a precedent for future civil claims on copyright infringement against ISD sellers in the market, including those on eCommerce platforms. Shopee Malaysia, for example, clarified last August that it has no part in creating the contents of listings and that the sellers on its platform are independent individuals or businesses who are not associated with Shopee. This comes after FINAS was reported by Astro AWANI to be investigating the sale of pirated local films on eCommerce platforms.

"This ground-breaking declaration will strengthen intellectual property protection in the country and ongoing anti-piracy efforts, which are pivotal to ensure continuous investment and job creation in Malaysia’s media and entertainment industry," Laila said. 

According to Astro previously, Malaysia's entertainment and media industry has been estimated to lose RM3 billion annually due to digital piracy, with RM500 million in taxes and thousands of jobs at risk. In February this year, industry players including Astro, Persatuan Penerbit Filem, SMG Entertainment, and Persatuan Seniman Malaysia appealed to the government to thoroughly review existing regulations, which they claim does not fully enforce, convict, deter infringements. Current regulations also do not provide copyright holders with sufficient protection for their creative works against digital piracy, the industry players claimed. 

On 8 February this year, an IT company in Shah Alam was the first company to be charged with promoting long TV Android boxes which allow the bypassing of technological protection measures on copyright broadcast work. Shortly after, a woman pleaded guilty on 16 February to a charge of possessing six TV media boxes which allowed for illegal streaming of Astro’s content via the Internet and was later fined RM30,000. 

Aside from Astro, other industry players also welcomed the High Court's judgement. MCMC"s chief regulatory officer Zulkarnain Mohd Yasin said this will strengthen the legal aspects in protecting copyright infringement and battle against piracy, especially in digital and networked forms.

At the same time, CEO of FINAS Ahmad Idham Ahmad Nadzri said in driving a more holistic and effective strategy battling digital piracy, FINAS has established the Digital Piracy Eradication Committee with the collective support and involvement of relevant law enforcement agencies to further empower and strengthen enforcement, regulations and the terms of distribution licences in line with the provisions under the FINAS Act 244 1981.

Meanwhile, deputy director general of the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia, Zulkarnain Muhammad, said prevalent and widespread use of ISDs cause far more economic harm than physical copyright piracy. He added that these devices are part of a wider network of online copyright piracy, which will in the long run disincentive original creators from producing creative work. 

Asia Video Industry Association's CEO Louis Boswell added that content is not made for free and it is the right of creators and distributors to charge for it. Boswell said the society needs to do more to recognise theft for what it is and this ruling is a strong step in that direction.

Separately, Malaysia's Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry has warned that it will take stern action against suppliers and sellers who misuse devices and software to illegally access content protected by their copyright work owners. 

Photo courtesy: 123RF

Related articles:
Malaysian media and entertainment industry claims RM3bn lost annually due to piracy
Shopee MY clarifies sale of pirated local films amidst FINAS investigation