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Peer sharing ‘affects livelihoods of film-makers’

SINGAPORE — Breaking its silence on why it is pursuing legal action here, independent film studio Voltage Pictures said yesterday through its lawyers that it is going after people here not merely because they downloaded the film Dallas Buyers Club but because, by doing so via peer-to-peer networks, they were simultaneously distributing the work illegally on a global scale, affecting the livelihoods of those who made the film.

Peer sharing ‘affects livelihoods of film-makers’

Jared Leto and Matthew McCounaughey in Dallas Buyers Club.

SINGAPORE — Breaking its silence on why it is pursuing legal action here, independent film studio Voltage Pictures said yesterday through its lawyers that it is going after people here not merely because they downloaded the film Dallas Buyers Club but because, by doing so via peer-to-peer networks, they were simultaneously distributing the work illegally on a global scale, affecting the livelihoods of those who made the film.

By yesterday, the studio had also received and accepted “quite a number of” offers of compensation after sending letters of demand to 77 M1 subscribers, said lawyer Robert Raj from Samuel Seow Law Corporation, which represents Voltage’s subsidiary Dallas Buyers Club LLC’s suit here. It has yet to contact subscribers of Singtel and StarHub, as the two telcos are still in the process of complying with the court order to turn over information of subcribers who allegedly downloaded the film illegally.

In response to TODAY’s queries, Mr Raj said his clients had initiated the action in Singapore because “piracy is seriously damaging the economy”, and they are pursuing uploaders “as these people are distributing the work without a license on a global scale”. He added: “When the public downloads our client’s movie using peer to peer networks, at the same time they are also uploading the film and they become illegal distributors globally. One person can turn into 10, which in turn can turn into 100 or to thousands.”

One click of a mouse will adversely affect the distributors, producers and even the cast and crew of each piece of work as the royalties may be reduced significantly.

“It also means less money available to make new films and increases prices for lawful paying customers. This has an effect on employment rates and the economy generally,” said Mr Raj.

Mr Raj confirmed that his client has not demanded any specific sum as damages in the demand letters.

The letters sent to alleged offenders here — a copy of which was seen by TODAY — ask for a written offer of damages and costs within three days of receipt. They also require alleged infringers to immediately delete and cease further use of unlicensed copies of the film. Singtel has to turn over information on some 150 subscribers. StarHub did not reveal how many of its subscribers were affected.

According to a November 2012 report by law firm Olswang Asia and the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia, Singapore has the highest per capita rates of peer-to-peer infringement of English language pay-TV shows in the Asia-Pacific, and is ranked in the top 10 worldwide.

Other lawyers TODAY spoke to said the studio is likely to anticipate higher compensation amounts from those who are more active in sharing the clip with others.

“By seeding the torrent, their act of infringement arguably leads to substantially more acts of infringement … the potential loss is more than just the cost of a DVD since they are propagating the infringement and causing greater loss to the copyright owner,” said digital media lawyer Matt Pollins from Olswang Asia.

Lawyer Byron Xavier from Xavier & Associates LLC said the studio may look at how many users each uploader has shared the file with, then multiply that figure with the amount it would have rightfully obtained from each copy of the film purchased, to determine a reasonable settlement.

Mr Xavier said users are “incentivised” to share files while downloading to get higher speeds. “Some of the alleged infringers may have adjusted their torrent settings to upload at the same time. If they have done that, they would also be responsible for disseminating the infringing content,” he said.

However, he maintained that it is not common for rights owners to target so many individual end users at one go. “(The studio) might have stirred a hornet’s nest in terms of public relations by doing things this way,” he said.

Technology and intellectual property lawyer Koh Chia Ling, from ATMD Bird & Bird, said that regulation in Singapore is mainly targeted at the distributors of pirated materials rather than individual consumers.

Dallas Buyers Club LLC has also started legal action in Australia and the US, where it is going after more than 4,700 and 1,000 Internet users respectively.

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