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Pirates beware: Court action is coming

by Don Groves

Village Roadshow co-executive chairman/co-CEO Graham Burke today outlined a five-step plan to combat piracy, including legal action against individuals who persistently download movies illegally.

Burke envisions court-imposed fines of up to $300 for the worst offenders to serve as a deterrent to those who think piracy is harmless and carries no risk.

The proceeds would be directed to copyright education, including a campaign which Creative Content Australia will launch next year to educate consumers on the damage piracy inflicts on the Australian creative community and the wider economy.

In a speech at the Australian International Movie Convention, he said, “As Village Roadshow we are planning to pursue our legal rights to protect our 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.

“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 is theft.

“In our research we repeatedly come across people who have not been told otherwise and assume from continued practice that it is socially and legally acceptable, and that it does no harm or that their individual activity won’t make any difference.

“These are the attitudes we believe we can change. This is all part of winning people to our cause.”

Burke’s point is borne out by a study by Screen Audience Research Australia (read article) last year which found that 35% of pirates believe that content should be freely available and that an ‘unfair’ distribution system (as they perceive it) doesn’t warrant paying for.

Trying to justify that behaviour, respondents to that survey expressed the views that “I’m not hurting anyone,” “We’ve never been told not to do it before” or “I can understand why indie films need my support, but not the big film companies.”

Burke told attendees at the convention that illegal online activity among 12-to-17-year-olds has almost doubled in the past two years, with a whopping 31% pirating movies.

Illustrating the global extent of copyright theft, he said there were an estimated 78.5 billion visits to piracy sites worldwide in 2015. In Australia, the total was reckoned to be 1.24 billion.

He cited George Milller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, which has been downloaded or streamed illegally 3.5 million times in Australia. By comparison, the total unit sales of Australian DVD, pay-per-view and legal streaming amounted to 516,396.

Legal action is just one plank of a five-part solution which Burke outlined. Another element is an alliance with Google. Village Roadshow is supporting the online giant’s anti-piracy efforts by alerting Google to search results which direct people to piracy movie sites, which results in Google removing the offending links to a specific title from the page.

After sending notices to remove such pages, Village Roadshow asks Google to lower their ranking in search results which means they are banished to no man’s land. Also, Google is a leader in flushing out rogue sites and ejecting them from their advertising networks.

Another key measure is using the site-blocking legislation passed by Parliament last year. Some 40 countries have introduced legislation blocking overseas websites. Research shows that blocking 53 sites in the UK caused a significant decrease in piracy and relatively few users have circumvented the blocking, which has even deterred the heaviest consumers of pirated products.

Village Roadshow led a coalition of film companies which asked the Federal Court to order ISPs to take down a number of piracy web sites. After the court hands down its judgement the company will bring further court action to seek the blocking of an additional 100 criminal sites.

In Australia and internationally, site blocking measures are used to ban sites that traffic in child pornography, promote terrorism and investment fraud. “If site blocking is used to enforce laws against other illegal activities, it clearly makes sense to limit copyright infringement,” Burke said. “Why is there an assumption that online rules should somehow differ from offline rules?”

Burke identified another “weapon” as the timely release in Australia of US films at competitive prices. He noted that virtually every major Hollywood movie is released globally on the same date at the US and that the cost of renting movies in Australia is 15% cheaper than the US, factoring in the exchange rate and local taxes.

The final element of the five-part solution is enlisting community support to demonstrate piracy is stealing and to appreciate the value of screen content and the role of copyright.

Creative Content Australia (chaired by Burke) is developing a broadly-based campaign that will warn people of the danger of viruses and malware and reinforce the message that piracy is theft.

“You can actively join this battle by informing your family, your kids and their friends - the headmaster at your kids’ school, your local member, your local grocer and above all your local newspaper, TV and radio stations,” Burke concluded.

“Tell them of the social and economic consequences of piracy. You can remind them that your personal business and career are at stake.”

To see the full text of the speech click HERE

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