Rights holders and movie industry primed for major piracy crackdown in Australia, says Village Roadshow boss.

THE boss of Australian movie distributor Village Roadshow has doubled down in the fight against pirates with a scathing speech decrying the rise of illegal downloading among young Australians and promising to put an end to it.

Graham Burke, the co-chief executive of the media company, has been a key player in fighting for rights holders against the issue of illegal file sharing.

He delivered a fiery speech to the Australian International Movie Convention on the Gold Coast yesterday in which he blasted those responsible and said the movie industry was positioning itself for a major crackdown on the practice, including suing repeat offenders.

Mr Burke likened those who engaged in illegal file sharing to drug dealers and career criminals.

The name may conjure up “images of Johnny Depp and certain rebel Robin Hood type good guys,” he said. But “the pirates are not good guys. These aren’t roguish, basement dwelling computer geeks.

“These are the same type of people that sell heroin.”

In an effort to dissuade people of the notion that illegal pirates are just everyday people, Mr Burke referred to them as “leeches and thieves”.

“It’s been proven, they often have connections to organised, international crime syndicates. Pirates are only about the dollars,” he said.

During the speech Mr Burke praised the bipartisan, albeit controversial, Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act, which was passed by the Australian government last year.

Among other things, it allows for the blocking of illegal streaming and file-sharing websites. Mr Burke said rights holders were waiting on a court decision to set the rules of engagement and establish the precedent for taking down sites before they ramped up the fight against pirates.

At the moment, the cost-sharing burden among rights holders and service providers has been a sticking point. However once that is settled Mr Burke said the movie industry was readying a plan to block up to 100 illegal download sites — a move he predicted would lead to an “immediate and dramatic” drop in piracy in Australia.

Once the industry has made illegal file sharing less accessible in the country, Mr Burke said rights holders would then rollout public education campaigns warning against engaging in it.

“I am confident that we will get a very positive outcome,” he said.

“If you look at Korea, which is a Western-style democracy where similar steps have been taken, and the UK, the outcome has been extremely positive.

“Once we take down 100 criminal websites we will get an immediate and dramatic effect. Australians would no more go into whip a Mars bar off the shelf than pirate a movie. Some will but the bulk of people are decent and law-abiding.”

THE PLAN

Mr Burke and Village roadshow previously led the push for a three strikes regime, which would have seen a graduated approach taken against those caught file sharing, however it was shelved after an unresolved cost sharing dispute.

The scheme sought to have repeat offenders punished with slower internet speeds or a temporary account suspension, while a third notification would involve the threat of serious legal action.

Yesterday Mr Burke outlined a new plan which included:

• Working with Google on a range of measures including the removal of links and search results directing people to pirate sites.

• Promoting legal alternatives and pushing for shorter turnaround times and synchronising release dates with the US for popular content.

• Suing repeat infringers with a system of penalties and fines.

• Engaging with schools and holding public awareness campaigns that promote discussion about copyright law.

HIDDEN DANGERS

Mr Burke also used the address to highlight the dangers and problems in visiting file sharing sites, pointing out that pornography advertising accounts for the main source of income for sites that host illegal content and that many can be prone to hosting malware and malevolent software.

“Equally terrifying is the ever-increasing amount of malware on the web — with pirate sites being the number one method to deliver and propagate serious criminal activity, corrupt or destroy your computer and hold your data to ransom,” he said.

PIRACY DOUBLES AMONG YOUNG AUSTRALIANS

The ascent of streaming services such as Netflix and Stan have certainly made a dint in the rate of piracy however according to Mr Burke, among young Australians the practice is alarmingly on the rise.

“Before we get too comfortable by this decline in total piracy, the emphasis on movies is worse, and illegal online activity of 12 to 17-year-old Australians has almost doubled since last year — with a whopping 31 per cent pirating movies,” he said.

Australia ranks as one of the worst offending countries for online piracy, with 1.24 billion visits to illegal pirate sites last year.

Mr Burke warned that if the trend continues there will be no way for many Australian and international movie producers to survive.

“Many people think this is a victimless crime,” Mr Burke said yesterday. “It’s not — and they haven’t thought through that if this were to continue, there will be no Red Dog, there will be no Mad Max, there will be no Star Wars, there will be no creativity. If we don’t solve this — it’s over.”

But before that happens, he’s readying for a fight.

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