Village Roadshow co-CEO Graham Burke addressing delegates at AIMC.
Piracy is a “raging bushfire” that threatens to destroy the local film industry, according to Village Roadshow's co-CEO Graham Burke.
“At this stage, piracy in Australia is virtually unchecked,” Burke told delegates at the Australian International Movie Convention on Monday.
In addition, Burke said Australians had taken to piracy at a far greater per capita rate than "anywhere else in the world”.
He pointed to the example of Mad Max: Fury Road. In Australia, the Academy award winning film has been downloaded or illegally streamed 3.5 million times – compared to 516,396 unit sales through DVD, pay-per-view or legal streaming.
And while there had been a decline in piracy among adults over the last year with the rise of SVOD platforms, among 12 – 17 year olds rates had almost doubled – with 31 per cent pirating movies.
Burke, who is also chair of Creative Content Australia, warned that without action, piracy could soon spell havoc for local feature film production.
“Already a number of companies and individuals have been put out of business,” he said.
“The Australian film 100 Bloody Acres was watched in cinemas by a fraction of the thousands who illegally downloaded it. The team behind it were devastated because the drop revenue impacted their ability to finance their next film.”
Burke called film pirates thieves, stating they “employ no one, pay no Australian tax and are criminals”.
However, he told delegates he was confident the industry could “eliminate the multi-million dollar income these leeches skim” and “bring this plague under control”.
He noted the example of Korea, a market where piracy was once so bad many cinema exhibitors were in hot water and home entertainment shut down.
“The government and industry got together and… cinemas are now up 50 per cent in attendance on where they were at the worst. The streaming and the home entertainment sector is a powerhouse and local production is dynamic,” he said.
In the fight against piracy, Burke acknowledged that content must be provided to audiences in a timely manner and at a fair price. He noted it was positive that Australia’s theatrical windows had closed in on America’s, and that digital platforms were creating a more competitive landscape.
Burke also thanked the Federal Government and the Opposition for their bipartisan support to allow site blocking.
“We are currently awaiting a court decision which will set the rules of engagement for the process and will establish the precedent for blocking websites. Nothing is more important or urgent as, every day that passes, tens of thousands of our movies are stolen,” he said.
“It is a devastating, contagious plague as more people, typically unaware that it is wrong, become infringers because the sites are wide open and no apparent action has been taken by government.”
Once the judge’s decision has been handed down, Burke said Village Roadshow has prepared to bring court action to request the blocking of 100 sites. He said Foxtel and various sporting bodies had also indicated they would take similar action.
Village Roadshow is also in the process of working with Google to support the taking down of pirate sites within search options, emphasising legitimate and legal options within them instead instead.
Further, Village Roadshow plans to protect its copyright by suing repeat infringers.
“Not for a king’s ransom, but akin to the penalty for parking a car in a loading zone. If the price of an act of thievery is set at say $300, we believe most people will think twice,” said Burke.
“However, the more important role of the legal action is to be part of the process of educating people that piracy is indeed wrong and theft.”
Burke said many people believe piracy is a harmless activity, and assume from continued practice that is both socially and legally acceptable.
“These are the attitudes we believe we can change,” he said.
Any revenue derived from the proposed legal program will devoted to positive education on piracy, said Burke.
“If we can consolidate the view held in the community that piracy is theft, damaging to our way of life and if we can carry the people of Australia with us, then we will have won the war.”