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Public apology over illegal set-top boxes
Company places apology in paper, StarHub won't take criminal action.
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By Desmond Ng

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Pay $600 & get all cable channels free

PSST, want free unlimited access to StarHub's 120 channels?

If you think that's too good to be true, you're right - as Vision Your Gadget Station Pte Ltd will tell you.

The company tried selling illegal decoders and had to apologise to StarHub in The Straits Times last Wednesday.

In the advertisement, the company apologised for importing set-top boxes which may be used to illegally decode the company's encrypted broadcast transmissions.

It had contravened the Copyright Act and the Broadcast Act.

Under the Act, those who sell or have such illegal decoders at home face a hefty $40,000 fine and jail of up to three years.

But The New Paper understands that StarHub is not taking any criminal or civil action against the company. {SEE CORRECTION ABOVE}

In the ad, the company also pledged to stop importing or selling such boxes and infringing StarHub's rights.

If it does, the company will be subjected to criminal and civil proceedings, and penalties.

Ms Ong Bee Lian, head of StarHub's pay-TV & entertainment division, said that Vision Your Gadget Station was found with the illegal set-top boxes by Singapore Customs.

Ms Ong said StarHub has the means to detect unauthorised dealers and viewers but would prefer not to divulge its methods.

She added that people who buy these set-top boxes may experience poor service quality. They are also exposing themselves to criminal and personal liabilities.

StarHub said they do get leads from their customers, public and from their own investigations on illegal set-top boxes.

StarHub added it has been giving unauthorised decoder sellers verbal and written warnings, before resorting to legal means.

Vision Your Gadget Station has outlets in Toa Payoh and Bukit Merah.

The New Paper's calls to the company director's handphone went unanswered.

StarHub's most recent successful prosecution before the Vision Your Gadget Station case was in September last year, when Chong Kim Siong pleaded guilty to three charges of selling unauthorised set-top boxes at Sim Lim Tower.

Chong was fined $60,000.

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Millions lost in revenue every year due to piracy

DECODERS may be illegal but there seems to be a thriving underground market for them.

Such piracy is costing cable-TV operators such as StarHub and SingTel millions of dollars in lost revenue every year.

The Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA) estimated that there are 5,300 illegal decoders here, resulting in a loss of about US$2.45 million ($3.4m) to the industry.

But the numbers have fallen, from about 10,000 decoders here in 2004, to about 4,800 in 2007. CASBAA is a trade group made up of 135 regional broadcasting corporations.

The group's deputy CEO John Medeiros told The New Paper that the growing incidence of piracy follows the growth in overall cable-TV subscription.

While it is relatively easy to patch illegal decoders into analogue cable lines without detection, the industry's solution has been digitisation.

StarHub completed digitisation of its cable network in June this year and switched off its analogue service.

Said Mr Medeiros: "This made Singapore into one of Asia's '100 per cent digital' pay-TV markets. With both SingTel and StarHub operating fully digital systems, that helps to discourage piracy.

"Details of their detection systems are proprietary and confidential, but it is an unfortunate truth that pirates are also always updating their use of technology, and so it is an ongoing game of cat-and-mouse."

The New Paper tried to find out if these illegal decoders were available at places like Sim Lim Square but it seemed that most such sellers have gone underground.

A check with at least 10 stores revealed that such boxes were not available for sale.

One shop employee, who declined to be identified, said that such boxes were previously readily available.

But because of several raids in the past, the decoders are now only available for sale by word-of-mouth or online, he said.

One website claimed to sell these decoders at about $300, along with an auto-scanning SIM card which can beat StarHub's detection systems.

But the seller was elusive and careful, leaving messages on his site that he would sell these boxes only to customers he was familiar with.

There was no contact number or e-mail provided on his website.

desmondn@sph.com.sg

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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