Piracy is theft but content owners need to up their game: Turnbull

Piracy is theft but content owners need to up their game: Turnbull

Summary: Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said online copyright infringement needs to be deterred in Australia, but has said content owners should pay for any notification system and ensure their content is available in a timely and affordable manner.


Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said copyright owners need to make their content available widely available at an affordable price if they want to be taken seriously in their concerns about online copyright infringement.

(Image: Josh Taylor/ZDNet)

Turnbull yesterday, along with Attorney-General George Brandis, released a discussion paper outlining proposals for how best to deter Australians from downloading copyright-infringing TV shows, films, and music over the internet. In the paper the two ministers noted that copyright infringement was a "long standing issue" with Australians having "high illegal download rates".

The proposals directly look to overturning the 2012 High Court judgment that iiNet as an internet service provider, was not authorising its customers' copyright infringement by declining to pass on infringement notices handed to the ISP.

The government has suggested that ISPs be required to take "reasonable steps" to prevent infringement on their networks, or face liability for their users' actions, but not if such a system saw the ISPs bear "unreasonable costs". One proposal also would allow content owners to get court injunctions to force ISPs to censor websites that contain infringing content, such as The Pirate Bay.

Turnbull's position on the matter of copyright infringement had been unclear, because although he had signed off on the paper, he did originally welcome the High Court's decision in 2012. Speaking to ABC radio this morning, Turnbull indicated that despite his sudden advocacy for deterring online copyright infringement by overturning the court's judgment, he still thought the iiNet High Court decision was the right one.

"The iiNet decision that you referred to was absolutely correctly decided by the High Court in my view and I said that at the time," he said.

But Turnbull said that action was needed to deter copyright infringement.

 "Internet piracy — downloading a movie that you haven't paid for is theft. It's exactly the same theft as walking into a DVD store and putting a DVD in your bag and walking out without paying. It has become a massive problem for the content creators in Australia and right around the world," he said.

"I'm a passionate defender of the internet and freedom on the internet, but freedom on the internet doesn't mean freedom to steal."

Turnbull said that the graduated response notice scheme in New Zealand was the best comparison to what the Australian government was looking at implementing.

He said content owners would bear the costs in such a scheme.

"Well the cost belongs to the rights holder, that's right. There are some people in the content industry who believe that the costs of this should be borne in whole or in part by the telecommunications sector – by the ISPs," he said.

"I don't find that a particularly persuasive argument."

Turnbull said the onus was on content owners to make their content more easily available, similar to streaming services such as Spotify.

"There is an obligation on the content owners. If their concerns are to be taken seriously, and they are, by governement, and if governments are going to take action to help them prevent piracy then they have got to play their part, which is to make their content available universally and affordably," he said.

He blamed some of the price differences experienced in Australia compared to other markets on content owners exploiting what Australians were willing to pay.

"I assume it is because they think they can make money out of it," he said.

But Turnbull stopped short of saying the government would step in and set pricing for content.

"I'm not suggesting the government should be setting prices here, but I'm just saying that if you want to discourage piracy the best thing you can do... is to make your content available globally, universally, and affordably," he said.

"You just keep on reducing, reducing, and reducing the incentive to do the wrong thing. The content owners, in the debate that is going to follow this discussion paper, they're the ones who have got to justify why they are charging more to Australians."

Turnbull said there would be a public forum held in the next few weeks with content owners such as Village Roadshow, and Foxtel, as well as consumer advocate groups and internet service providers on the best way to deal with copyright infringement.

"I'm hoping to hold a forum on this, a public forum on this in a few weeks and I hope Choice will be there and be able to make their case. I'll certainly be inviting Richard Freudenstein from Foxtel and Graham Burke from Village Roadshow and of course representatives from the ISPs."

Topics: Piracy, Government AU, Australia


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • Abolish Copyright

    Abolish Copyright and watch the turds lift their game.
    Kevin Cobley
  • The so called digital piracy is not the same as theft

    The argument that is equal to go into a store and steal a DVD is the same, is ridiculous. Many studied about the issue and it's not the same regarding morals, neither is the same regarding the definition of theft in many legal systems.
    Theft is when someone gain something and someone else loses that thing - making a copy of DVD is not making anyone losing the right to keep selling that DVD.
    While piracy can hurt industry, it's not clear that it's always the case, the industry trying to convert each illegal copy into a lost sale is bullshit, sometimes piracy can even make a sales boost and a cheap advertising channel - book author Paulo Coelho described that advantage.
    Also it's "strange" that content industry is trying for us to believe that an illegal copy of a DVD is the same as stealing it from some shelf, but when someone scratches or damage the physical disc, the full price must be paid - they give the value to the disk accordingly to their interests - piracy is wrong, not conducting a consistent moral behavior is also wrong. If content is the same as the physical DVD/book/... and if I can share those with friends per example, why shouldn't I be able to share the content?

    I'm not defending piracy - I've spent thousands in content, and happy with it - but the entire content industry could try to play fair and make the experience of paying for a music album, a book, ... a desirable and enjoyable experience.
    • Agreed

      These concepts of theft in a digital ages really need revision. And its been a evolution if you think about it. In the 80's, if a radio station plays a song (public performance) and I record that public performance on tape then make a bunch of copies for my friends, is that theft? Sorry, I would feel no moral guilt in doing so. It would be a bad copy for sure but now make this all digital.

      Then there is the cont. pushing out to absurd decades of copyrights. Why does the Disney Co. still have copyrights to Mickey? Steamboat Willie is over 75 years old. Should I feel some moral bad feelings if a copyright keeps getting pushed out year after year?

      The past greed in these media industries has made people feel little sympathy in their alleged wrong doing.
      Rann Xeroxx
  • One step closer...

    Although I take heart in some of Turnbull's comments (mainly that content owners need to own a decent chunk of the problem themselves), I'm still exasperated at the complete lack of understanding from our decision makers.

    As AleMartin said, downloading pirated content is NOT the same as stealing a DVD from a store and, until that wrong-headed thinking changes, we're not going to see a positive outcome to this.

    Turnbull's comment about "freedom to steal" is nothing but a justification for his position that censorship is part of the solution, which is utter crap. Censorship in a free world is never the answer, regardless of the problem.

    Even if you support the notion that pirating TV and movie content is theft (in the traditional sense of the word), the characterisation of an uncensored internet as "freedom to steal" is wildly inaccurate.

    It's actually freedom to make a choice - Mr Turnbull - even if that choice is wrong, immoral or illegal. That freedom is something we should be protecting at all costs - not selling out because some chequebook in a shiny suit told us their shareholders are losing value.