Criminal charges brought against a Singaporean company for alleged use of pirated software mark an important legal milestone in the country, according to a Singaporean lawyer familiar with the case.

Interior design firm PDM International Pte. Ltd. was charged last week under Singapore’s Copyright Act with 51 counts of using unlicensed software “to obtain a commercial advantage,” according to the charge sheet filed by the Singapore Police Force.

The charges follow a September 2005 raid on the company by the police, who acted on a tip provided by the Business Software Alliance (BSA), an industry group created to fight software piracy.

“The case is very significant, as it represents the first time a corporate end user has been prosecuted in Singapore for copyright offenses introduced when the Singapore Copyright Act was amended in 2005,” said Lam Chung Nian, a lawyer at Lee & Lee, the Singaporean law firm that represents the BSA and some of its member companies.

The Copyright Act was amended as part of the Singapore government’s obligations under the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement and was designed to strengthen the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR), Lam said. “The criminalization of wilful commercial end-user infringement should send a strong message of deterrence,” he said.

Under the Singapore Copyright Act, software piracy by a company can result in a fine of up to S$20,000 (US$12,351) and six months in prison for a first offense. A subsequent offense carries a stiffer penalty: a fine of up to S$50,000 and three years in prison.

Since the charges in the PDM International case have been filed against a company and not an individual, only a fine can be levied if a court rules that the company broke the law, the Singapore Police Force said in an e-mail statement.