On April 4, a Hardwarezone forum user sh1n started a thread - 'Received threatening letter for downloading movie. Need advice...' - seeking advice from other forum users after he received a legal letter.
According to sh1n, the letter demanded that sh1n 'provide a written offer of damages and costs' for 'downloading a movie'.
Below is a screenshot of his original post:
When other users inquired about the movie sh1n had supposedly downloaded, he shared that it was the Dallas Buyers Club:
Several people in the thread commented that the letter may have been a scam, while others have said that the firm does exist and specialises in Intellectual Property:
sh1n also uploaded a photograph of the letter onto Imgur:
When asked about whether he downloaded the movie from a direct link or through 'Bukit Timah' (a euphemism for Bit Torrent as both terms share the same abbreviation 'BT'), sh1n replied:
sh1n also shared that the lawyers had applied for a court order for his Internet Service Provider to provide his details to the plaintiff:
sh1n had also wanted to make sure the letter was not a scam and also checked whether M1 had indeed given out his details:
On 7 Apr, The New Paper reported that demand letters were sent to all three telcos to release the identities of users who had downloaded the movie. M1 and StarHub had refused initially but complied after a court order made them do so. TNP reported that Singtel's case 'is still before the courts'.
Dallas Buyers Club copyright owners have sent letters elsewhere as well
It appears that the copyright holders of Dallas Buyers Club has also gone after other pirates, but this happened in Australia in Feb 2015. The case hit a road block as Internet Service Providers (ISP) in Australia did not reveal the identities of its clients whose IP addresses were found to have pirated the movie.
One ISP, iiNet, wrote a blog post "Not our kind of club" explaining why they did not reveal the identities of its clients. It said that although it does not condone consumers using their services to infringe copyright, it had "serious concerns" about the intentions of the copyright owners.
One concern iiNet had was that "customers will be unfairly targeted to settle any claims out of court using a practice called “speculative invoicing”".
iiNet explained speculative invoicing as such:
Speculative invoicing, as practiced overseas, commonly involves sending intimidating letters of demand to subscribers seeking significant sums for an alleged infringement. These letters often threaten court action and point to high monetary penalties if sums are not paid.
Our concerns with speculative invoicing by Dallas Buyers Club in Australia include:
Users might be subject to intimidation by excessive claims for damages, as made by Dallas Buyers Club in other countries.
Because allegations of copyright infringement are linked to IP addresses, the alleged infringer could be incorrectly identified if details of the account holder were revealed. For example, the relevant IP address could have originated from a person in a shared household, an individual visiting a household which has open WiFi, or a school, or an Internet cafe.
Because Australian courts have not tested these cases, any threat by rights holders, premised on the outcome of a successful copyright infringement action, would be speculative.
Growing interest in this case in Singapore
It seems that there is considerable interest on the outcome of sh1n's plight as the thread in a space of less than 36 hours has received close to 1,400 replies and over 170,000 views - a high number by Hardwarezone standards. By Tuesday afternoon, the thread has over 2,600 replies and 360,000 views.
In Mar 2014, a survey of 900 Singaporeans found that 6 in 10 downloaded pirated content. It also found that youths consumed more pirated content and 8 in 10 youths found piracy a social norm.
*Editor's note: This article was updated on Tuesday 1.45pm to include details from TNP and also the iiNet blog post*