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George Brandis contradicts Malcolm Turnbull over piracy crackdown payments

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Senior Abbott government ministers Malcolm Turnbull and George Brandis have publicly contradicted each other over who should pay for an anti-online piracy scheme.

In an interview published on Monday, Senator Brandis said internet service providers were not ''innocent bystanders'' and should contribute to the costs of an anti-piracy crackdown - a view rejected by the Communications Minister last week.

Mr Brandis and Mr Turnbull last week released a discussion paper on online copyright infringement containing proposals to tackle illegal downloading.

Attorney General George Brandis.

Attorney General George Brandis. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The paper includes proposals to block overseas websites that host pirated content and to compel internet service providers (ISPs) to stop users illegally downloading movies, TV shows and music.

''Obviously ISPs don't want to pay to make a contribution,'' Senator Brandis told The Australian. ''Their argument is that, 'Well, we're the innocent bystander'.

''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.''

Last week Mr Turnbull said rights holders concerned about copyright infringement should sue those who illegally download.

''There are some people in the content industry who believe that the costs [of anti-piracy measures] should be borne in whole or part by the telecommunications sector - by the ISPs,'' Mr Turnbull said.

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

The public disagreement reflects a long-standing divergence of views between the two men. Senator Brandis, who is Arts Minister as well as Attorney-General, has advocated tough measures to target illegal downloading while Mr Turnbull, a co-founder of one of Australia's first ISPs, has taken a more minimalist approach.

The proposal to extend ''authorisation liability'' to ISPs would essentially overturn a decision by the High Court in 2012, which found that internet service providers could not be found liable for authorising an act by a subscriber who infringes copyright.

The technology and creative sectors are eager to learn how the two ministers will work together to tackle piracy. Mr Turnbull said government had a role but that rights holders had the most power to discourage online piracy by making content available quickly and cheaply.

He is organising a public forum on copyright infringement to be held in Sydney later this month.

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