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

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.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

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."

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