Malaysia: Updated copyright law could mean 20 years prison for piracy

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“Copyright (Amendment) Act 2021” amends Malaysia’s Copyright Act of 1987 to explicitly recognize streaming technology as an avenue to copyright infringement, and defines penalties against offenders.

It also brings Malaysian copyright law into alignment with international standards.   Law enforcement agencies are granted search-and-seizure authority for infringing copies of media content, and the new law makes it an offense to share online access to copies of works to persons without rights to access the works.

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43aa. (1) No person shall commit or facilitate infringement

  1. (a)  manufacturing a streaming technology for sale or hire;
  2. (b)  importing a streaming technology;
  3. (c)  selling or letting for hire, offering, exposing or advertising for sale or hire, possessing or distributing a streaming technology in the course of a business;
  4. (d)  distributing a streaming technology for purposes other than in the course of a business to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the owner of the copyright; or
  5. (e)  offering to the public or providing any service of streaming technology.

It also replaces words like ‘motion picture’ with broader identifiers.  Copyright owners may be asked to produce evidence of infringement by making a test purchase of the suspected infringing service.

Stiff penalties

Upon conviction, offenders are responsible to pay a minimum fine of 10,000 ringgit (US $2,370 on Dec 20, 2021), up to a maximum of 200,000 ringgit (US $47,410 on Dec 20, 2021), up to 20 years in prison, or both.   The financial penalties may seem light in comparison to the prison term, but these sums are high for the average Malaysian.

Compounding of offenses

Offenders may also be given an opportunity to settle for “a sum of money not exceeding fifty per centum of the amount of the maximum fine to which the person would have been liable to if he had been convicted of the offence, within such time as may be specified in the written offer,” according to Section 41A (2), and relieved of prosecution if the offender forfeits or returns the article connected with the offense.

Read the full Bill: “An Act to amend the Copyright Act of 1987

Why it matters

Several countries in the South Asia region have focused on legislative action to reduce media piracy.  In May 2021, Malaysia made illicit streaming devices illegal.

The new law also assumes that accused offenders are guilty unless proven innocent:

43aa. (3) Where an offence under this section is committed by a body corporate or by a person who is a partner in a firm, every director, chief executive officer, chief operating officer, secretary, manager or other similar officer of the body corporate or every other partner in the firm or was purporting to act in any such capacity or was in any manner or to any extent responsible for the management of the affairs of the body corporate or firm or was assisting in such management, as the case may be, shall be deemed to be guilty of the offence and may be charged severally or jointly in the same proceedings with the body corporate or firm unless he proves that the offence was committed without his consent or connivance and that he exercised all due diligence to prevent the commission of the offence.

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