Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Trouble for Dallas Buyers Club Downloaders

_DSC3780In the news today is about the owners of that movie, which honestly I haven’t heard about until today, obtaining from ISPs the subscriber information of alleged infringers of their copyright. This will likely develop into a very interesting case, because it will set a precedent to how copyright owners can pursue their claims in Singapore.

Samuel Seow Law Corporation, acting on behalf of Dallas Buyers Club LLC, alleges that over 500 people in Singapore have illegally downloaded the Oscar-winning film Dallas Buyers Club. It appears that they are tracking alleged infringers through their IP addresses as they use BitTorrent to download and share the movie.

I am not a lawyer, and the first thing I should say, of course, is that if you are at the receiving end of the wrath from Samuel Seow Law Corporation, you should seek professional legal advice. Now, with that out of the way, I’m wondering how far this case can go.

Some people may remember about the case with Odex and their Japanese anime from many years ago. As I understand, Odex didn’t haul any alleged infringers to court. At best, they only scared those folks, or just some of them, into paying up in an out-of-court settlement.

Right now, it seems all Samuel Seow Law Corporation has is that an IP address was used in a (presumably) BitTorrent sharing of the movie. This is the same as what Odex had. How do you determine the real person behind the infringing activity?

Are we to presume that the subscriber of the Internet service is held responsible? To be honest, I’ve not read the fine print of my broadband service. But the subscriber legalities aside, there seems to be many loopholes and possible defences that the defendants can put up. For example, Internet connections at home are likely shared with the whole family. Perhaps a good neighbour also shares the Internet connection. This is only the beginning.

What about people with open Wi-Fi access? Anyone in the vicinity, thus, could use the Internet. Even when WEP is configured on the Wi-Fi, it is easily cracked. How do we preclude the possibility that the subscriber’s Internet service was not illegally accessed?

In case you’re wondering, the state-of-the-art WPA2-PSK (at least for home users) is also not a whole lot better if your passwords are weak. Attackers can snag a copy of your WPA2 authentication packet and conduct an off-line password crack.

Some time ago, when StarHub sent a technician to provision my fibre broadband and setup the free wireless router for me, I was shocked to learn that I shouldn’t change the admin password of the wireless router. Why? He explained that if I ever had to call StarHub for broadband Internet issues, where necessary, leaving the default password in the wireless router would enable StarHub engineers to remotely access the device to troubleshoot issues. The OMG-moment aside, I wonder how many wireless routers out there are still having default passwords, leaving them vulnerable to all sorts of illegitimate access?

What if you own a business, and you provide wireless access to your customers? This seems to be quite common in many places, not the least being Starbucks. The free Wi-Fi comes with no-questions-asked. The point is that the practice of giving free Wi-Fi without tracking users is not uncommon.

These are just some examples. You could think out more creative scenarios.

The question, basically, comes down to how liable the Internet subscriber is for all activities carried out on his Internet connection. I think it will be difficult for the plaintiff to show beyond reasonable doubt that the subscriber was indeed responsible for the alleged infringement.

p.s.: I’m beginning to wonder, if the concept of copyright and piracy, to a certain degree, even makes sense on the Internet for an end-user. I’ll share another post later this week. Stay tuned. (Post is now up: Piracy on the Internet is Cloudy)

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