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Brandis and Turnbull at odds over who pays for piracy

The two politicians behind Australia's latest piracy discussion paper have contradicted each other on who should foot the bill for reform.

Attorney-General Senator George Brandis.Image by CeBIT Australia, CC BY 2.0

The two architects of Australia's piracy regulation reform are at odds over who should pay for the scheme, separately calling on rights holders and ISPs to foot the bill.

Attorney-General George Brandis, who co-signed the Federal Government's recent discussion paper on piracy with Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, has contradicted his lower house colleague on the issue saying ISPs should bear some of the cost of implementing a scheme to reduce piracy.

Brandis' comments come just days after Turnbull argued that the rights holders should be held financially liable for the costs associated with cracking down on piracy. Turnbull told Sky News:

"We've got to have a laser-like focus on the problem here. What is the problem? The problem is that valuable content is being stolen.

Who loses from that? The owners of the content.

The cost really should be where the loss occurs, and that of course is with the content owner.

A lot of people in the content industry say, why should they have to take people to court? Why shouldn't the ISPs just impose all the sanctions for them?

The ISPs on the other hand say, 'Hang on, if it's your valuable content being stolen, you're the one who is suffering the massive financial loss, surely it's up to you to take proceedings as you would if someone was shoplifting or stealing a car'."

However, Brandis contradicted Turnbull, saying that while "there is always going to be an issue about cost," the rights holders should not bear that cost alone.

"Obviously ISPs don't want to pay to make a contribution. Their argument is that, 'well, we're the innocent bystander'," Brandis told The Australian. "Well, they're not an innocent bystander because they are an unwitting facilitator ... We expect the ISPs to make a contribution to the cost of administrating the scheme. No side in this debate can pretend that it is uninvolved."

The question of the High Court's ruling in the case between AFACT and iiNet also reared its head, with Brandis and Turnbull at odds over the ramifications of the High Court ruling -- that ISPs should not be held accountable for the actions of their customers.

For his part, Turnbull stood by his previous comments that the decision was the correct one to make.

"What the rights owners were saying about iiNet was that they were saying, 'If we tell you that somebody is breaching our copyright, you iiNet have the obligation at your expense to write to them, to warn them, and then to terminate your contract with them'," he said. "The court felt that was unreasonable. I think that was correctly decided on the law as it stands."

However Brandis has now claimed that the decision has had negative implications in the ongoing industry response to piracy.

"I don't want to question the legal reasoning of the judges, but the unfortunate outcome of the iiNet case is that it has taken a lot of pressure off the ISPs to come to the table," he said. "But the government is determined to step into the policy gap left by the iiNet case, and if need be, we will legislate."

When it comes to the responsibilities of rights holders, Turnbull argued that they needed to be prepared to defend their copyright in court, no matter the public perception. "Rights owners are not keen on taking people to court because it doesn't look good, because it's bad publicity," he said. "But it is absolutely critical. Rights owners have got to be prepared to actually roll their sleeves up and take on individuals. They've got to be prepared to sue people -- sue mums and dads and students who are stealing their content. They can't expect everybody else to do that for them."