The PM has taken control of online piracy and copyright away from attorney-general George Brandis

A scene from Dallas Buyers Club Photo credit: Anne Marie Fox/Focus Features

The nation’s top legal officer, attorney-general George Brandis, has been stripped of overseeing online privacy and copyright provisions, as well censorship classifications as part of Malcolm Turnbull’s ministerial shake up.

The roles have gone to communications minister Mitch Fifield, who also took over the arts portfolio from Brandis.

Fifield is now responsible for the Copyright Act, and the classification of films, computer games and books under the changes.

The move comes after the government introduced anti-piracy online site blocking legislation in June, which enables copyright holders to head to court to have a site blocked in Australia for repeated copyright infringements.

As Fairfax Media reports Turnbull and Brandis had differing views on the issue, with the former arts minister keen to place some of the burden on internet service providers (ISPs) for copyright breaches by users, while the former communications minister sided more with the telcos against the copyright creators who were pushing hard for increased policing and harsher penalties against individuals who infringe.

The Dallas Buyers Club piracy case, in which the copyright owners wanted to send a letter seeking compensation from illegal downloaders, was viewed as an example of how the issue would be tackled in the future.

George Brandis was advocating for ISPs to deal with copyright owners directly so to issue breech notices to customers suspected of online piracy, but who would pay for the scheme remained in dispute.

The push for copyright reform continues however, with the tech startup industry keen to see changes, while international businesses such as Google remain wary of local hosting over fears that they could be seen as in breech of Australian copyright law.

Shifting the Sydney-based Australian Classification Board from the AG’s department to communications is a more surprising move, since the Board works closely with the minister for justice, and the legal system to offer advice and expert opinion on issues such as terrorism-related material and child pornography. But it may also be viewed as an opportunity for the scope of the classification system, which mainly deals with hard copy material, to be broadened in the internet age.

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