Brisk sales continue for TV box sellers despite ongoing court case

SINGAPORE — Retailers of Android TV boxes are keeping a close watch on a private prosecution case against two fellow TV box sellers but have no plans to stop sales at the moment.

Sales of such Android TV boxes continue to be brisk at Sim Lim Square during a visit by TODAY on Saturday (Jan 13).

Retailers there claim that their products — which come preloaded with apps that let users stream copyrighted content — are different from those cited in the legal case as they are not “specifically designed and adapted” to make copies of copyrighted content.

“We are just doing streaming,” said a shopkeeper at Amconics Technology who declined to be named.

On Friday, four rights owners — telcos StarHub and Singtel, entertainment giant Fox and the organising body of the English Premier League (EPL) — filed private prosecution charges against Synnex Trading and An-Nahl for the alleged offence of “wilfully infringing” copyright”.

Mr Joe Guo Jun, 30, a TV box salesman at MT, located on the third floor of Sim Lim Square, said the TV boxes sold at the shop were merely platforms for people to watch more content on their television, and “it is up to the users how they want to use it”.

Although the TV boxes come preloaded with apps that can be used to access illegal content, Mr Guo who hails from Shandong said the software was installed by a manufacturer in Shenzhen, China, and not by MT or its staff.

He stressed that he often explains to his customers that it is “definitely against the law” to access unauthorised sites and illegal content through the devices.

A 73-year-old set-top box seller who only wanted to be known as Mr Tan added: “We tell people not to download. If the shops here help people to download, that’s where you can get into trouble.”

As evidence, Mr Tan showed TODAY (pictured below) clauses on its receipts which stated: “Please do not download movie/dramas (sic) etc” and “Downloading is an offence under the copyright law”.

He added: “We are streaming through applications that can also be loaded onto Android phones. If TV box sellers are deemed illegal, will authorities go after phone and computer sellers too?”

Like most retailers, Mr Tan, a former math teacher, is watching developments on the ongoing legal case closely.

“If the case is not favourable, I just shut down the business (and retire),” Mr Tan added.

A spokesman of CH2 Technologies — the parent company of a few TV box brands here which dominate the scene at Sim Lim Square and in IT shows — told TODAY it does not provide channel subscriptions or video-on-demand services.

“We are just helping customers who want to watch YouTube, movies or dramas,” he said.

Still, Israeli businessman Lior Nabat, 47, who was browsing for set-top boxes at the electronics mall, noted that there are retailers who try to outdo the competition by offering a slew of illegal streaming apps.

Previously, set-top boxes – used to stream movies, television shows or sports programmes – had decoded encrypted broadcasts offered by StarHub. The sale and distribution of these decoders are illegal under the Broadcasting Act.

However, in the past three to five years, new technologies have allowed pirates to circumvent the law, and the set-top boxes nowadays that use apps to stream content do not have decoders and are considered legal.

Last month, the Coalition Against Piracy — whose members include major entertainment companies — said the devices facilitate “rampant” piracy in Singapore.

In the case before the courts here, Synnex and its director, Jia Xiaofeng, were served with four charges each: One for the possession of 104 media boxes “specifically designed and adapted” for making copies of copyrighted last May at its shop in Geylang, and three for allegedly helping customers make “unauthorised copies” of programmes or films between May and September last year.

These include EPL football matches, as well as programmes on cable channels such as Star Sports, Astro, TVB, and National Geographic.

An-Nahl, which used to carry Synnex’s set-top boxes, and its director Abdul Nagib Abdul Aziz, were served two charges each. They were for stocking 12 set-top boxes at its shop in Tanjong Katong Complex, and helping a customer use the media box to make unauthorised copies of EPL matches and Fox programmes last May.

Asked if more set-top box sellers would be hauled to court, Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow lawyer Lim Ren Jun – who is representing Singtel, StarHub, Premier League and Fox – told TODAY on Saturday that his clients are “considering their options and will not hesitate to take robust action to enforce their legal rights”.

Mr Lim declined comment on how long his clients’ investigations had persisted before they went to court, only disclosing that the Magistrate’s Complaints preceding Friday’s charges were heard before the State Courts’ crime registry on Nov 20 and 21 last year. No mediation proceeding had been conducted to date, he added.

On why StarHub, Singtel, Premier League and Fox are collaborating in the case, Mr Lim referred to his clients’ joint statement, pronouncing their stand that “it is imperative that intellectual property rights are protected to give content creators their just due”.

“Piracy makes it untenable for producers to keep on creating content for the public’s enjoyment and Singapore cannot effectively encourage innovation when intellectual property rights are constantly trampled on,” they wrote.

The telcos and rights owners added that they will continue to take “concerted and decisive action” against content piracy through public education as well as legal channels, noting the “alarming proliferation” of streaming devices that are used to view copyright-protected content “hurts both consumers and producers”.