Battling digital piracy requires decisive and swift action by the authorities.
In August last year, film producer Datuk Yusof Haslam released the horror film Munafik 2. While it was still showing in local cinemas, someone made an illegal recording, uploaded it online and shared the link on social media.
That link was discovered by Yusof and his film production company.
“I reached out to the uploader on social media and asked him to take it down but he said that there was nothing I could do about it. After about a week, I hired lawyers and a private investigator to track the uploader,” Yusof said.
It didn’t take long to identify the uploader – Izwan Shah, a Perak-based design company employee – and charge him in court. Izwan was ordered to pay RM100,000 to Yusof’s company, Skop Production.
“I don’t know how to say this ... but I was faster than the ‘ministry people’,” Yusof said.
As a veteran in the local entertainment industry, Yusof has had to deal with piracy for decades – in the 1990s, for instance, he had to combat pirated VCDs. But today, he has to take down online pirates and it hasn’t been easy.
He lamented that government bodies such as the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry (KPDNHEP), as well as enforcement bodies like the police which are tasked to deal with digital piracy are not acting fast.
“What I regret is that I made a report (with the relevant parties) but no swift action was taken. We spent RM50,000 on lawyers to charge the culprits. We had to do what we did to let other people know that they shouldn’t try to mess with the law,” he said.
Time is of the essence
Video-on-demand service dimsum chief marketing officer Lam Swee Kim also feels that the process is too lengthy.
The MCMC can only instruct ISPs (Internet service providers) to block access to a website that infringes copyright once it receives the direction from the KPDNHEP.
For now, Kim said it can take months for the ministry to investigate a report about a site offering illegal content.
By that time, it would have been too late – the TV show or movie would have been viewed by thousands and the content could have been duplicated by another illegal streaming website, she added.
The Asia Video Industry Association chief executive officer Louis Boswell said Malaysia need to keep up with the way piracy is evolving in the digital space.
“Some of the pirates are part of an organised crime syndicate and they move fast,” he said at the Kuala Lumpur Digital Content Anti-piracy Summit.
He said the grievances aired by members of the local entertainment industry like Kim and Yusof are not uncommon.
“You spend two months trying to get a site blocked only to see another one pop up in five minutes. We’re sympathetic but at the same time, we have to follow the laws and proper procedures. Right now, how do we come up with a fair and transparent system that is fast and nimble at the same time?” he asked.
Taking the lead
If Malaysia needs a model on how to administer effective site blocking practices, it can look at Britain. Premier League senior commercial solicitor Stefan Sergot said that the company relies on a real-time blocking method to prevent illegal streaming of live football matches in the country.
A high court ruling in 2017 granted ISPs the right to block servers that were the source of the streams rather than just the illegal websites hosting the Premier League matches. And last July, the law was amended to allow ISPs to act even faster and the protection was extended for the 2018/2019 football season.
“It takes a huge amount of resource, time and daily engagement with ISPs. The nature of live sports require us to react quickly against piracy,” he said.
“We have to be sure that the website is infringing our copyright before informing the ISPs to immediately block the stream. We, as the rights owner, are happy to accept the responsibility of identifying and notifying the ISPs.”
Film director Adrian Teh also feels that speed is vital, as not being able to take action immediately will continue to cut into the profitability of the local entertainment industry.
“Users don’t know if a movie will show up on Netflix or dimsum. But they seem to know that it will be pirated. So some people would rather check out the movie on an illegal website than wait for it to be available on legal platforms,” he said.
He understands that it will take a lot of effort to combat piracy but feels that action should be taken starting now.
“I feel what the government can do right now is to make it a mandate for the ISPs to ban all online illegal streaming websites. It’s like how we ban porn in Malaysia.
“It shouldn’t take too much deliberation,” he said.
Boswell feels that if content on the Internet that threatens national security, racial harmony or social morals can be dealt with effectively then Malaysia should start tackling digital piracy in the same serious manner.
If site blocking cannot be implemented, Kim suggested that ISPs look towards alerting users instead.
“ISPs can have a pop-up message to inform users that they are visiting an illegal pirate site,” she said.
She felt that educating users will be affective in driving away traffic from such websites.
And despite the many challenges, Boswell is optimistic that the fight against digital piracy will get better.
“For the longest time, we felt that nothing much is being done in Singapore. We were having constant dialogues advocating our cause. Then in the last four to five months, we’ve seen huge movements,” he said.
For instance, in January, the Singapore government announced that amendments will be made to its Copyright Act to better protect creators and users of video content. The new amendments will introduce civil and criminal liabilities.
Part of the amendments include new enforcement measures to prevent retailers from profiting by selling devices that allow users to access illegal streaming services.
The amendments were the result of a three-year review that included consulting with the Singapore’s Intellectual Property Office, content providers, pay TV operators and the public.
Also, last November, the High Court ordered the country’s ISPs to block access to popular illegal applications that are preloaded on devices like Android TV boxes.
Boswell believes it won’t be long before other countries in the region like Malaysia and Thailand start making much-needed changes.
“It’s just a question of when are we going to clamp down on it. No better time than now,” he said.