On March 15, Village Roadshow's CEO, Graham Burke, penned a letter to the Department of Communications and the Arts, appealing for a review of the Copyright Online Infringement Amendment.
What that letter contains is an eye-opening range of claims - of Australia ending up "as bleak as a remote Bejing suburb", linking piracy with "drug selling" and "luring kids" into "criminal neighbourhoods that proliferate with prostitution" and insisting "wondrous Australian films are often more important than people we meet in shaping our world".
I couldn't make this up if I tried.
Read it in its glorious entirety here.
In June 2015 the Australian Parliament legislated to allow pirate websites to be blocked in Australia. This important law was passed with the bipartisan support of the Coalition and the Labor Party. It was introduced into Parliament by Malcolm Turnbull and brought Australian copyright protection law into line with many other countries. It has proved a vital weapon in our fight against piracy.
Village Roadshow, as Australia’s most committed producer of feature films, has used the new law multiple times – and will continue use site blocking as a key tool in its anti-piracy measures. Site blocking is effective - recently released Australian research proves this. Piracy year-on-year overall is down 25% and traffic to blocked pirate sites down 53%. However, we have no doubt this can be down 50% and 90% respectively. Like any legal action, it costs money, but its value far exceeds its cost.
Village Roadshow strongly supported the original site blocking legislation and now we strongly support strengthening it.
With all major pirate sites blocked in Australia, the front door of the department store is shut. However, pirates, facilitated by Google and other search engines, are circumventing Australian Laws and Courts and opening a huge back door. By way of example, I attach page shots of Google searches, in most cases coming up with pirate links before a user even completes typing a search phrase.
Australia needs the power to require Google and other search engines to take reasonable steps to stop facilitating searches which lead to pirate sites. Proof this can work can be seen in Korea where the search engine equivalent of Google with a 70% market share on their own volition demote pirates to page 4 – Siberia. Why? As Koreans they have the interests of their own country at heart. Google’s tens of millions searching for stolen goods are attracted to their advertising business model. No interest in Australian jobs, culture or the economy.
Pirates are not charitable and are seriously bad people (suspected links to organised crime).
They make their money on:
a) Commissions on scams. Stealing people’s credit card details – holding their computers to ransom et cetera.
b) Rogue advertising including illegal gambling, drugs, sex aids and prostitution.
The analogy for Google is a Westfield Shopping Centre knowing they are getting big traffic to the centre from a store that is using stolen goods to lure people and then robbing them! Of course Frank Lowy would not wait for a court order and shut down real fast. As the Koreans do and so should Google!
Australia can achieve real reform by two simple amendments to the legislation:
1. Change the word “Carriage” so the provision extends to all “intermediary” service providers, to make it technologically neutral, covering search engines, social media and other types of internet intermediaries. Apart from ISP’s, many intermediaries are able to meaningfully impact traffic to infringing sites, and in fact, can and are currently used by pirates to find new locations and proxies to circumvent the ISP blocks. Importantly addresses auto complete as requires service provider to take reasonable steps to disable access to online locations.
2. Omit requirement that the Online Locations are “Outside Australia” as it is just a matter of “when” pirates open up and industry is faced with suing – three years – Men of Straw.
Of course, as our submission to the original legislation in 2015 emphasised, dealing with piracy cannot be just left to legislation.
Critical to the success of solving piracy is that legislation is accompanied by:
a) Legally available cheap product – Australian digital download is now as cheap as anywhere in the world. Services like Netflix, Stan and others have opened and subscription prices are not expensive. Village accepts and understands that people want to get product at the same time as the rest of the world. Three years ago this was not the case but today 99% of films are released simultaneous with either the American or UK openings. The small exception is a film like LEGO where it is released in holidays when audiences want to see it.
b) Hearts and minds – We must win over the hearts and minds. Our use of site blocking has been accompanied by a series of TV, on-line, newspaper and cinema ads reinforcing that piracy is theft and wrong. Just like people no longer smoke in restaurants and we have “tidy towns”, there is no doubt we can win hearts and minds.
i) The Bryan Brown commercial was to educate people to the real risks of pirating. This was factual and powerful and in Bryan’s Aussie way connected with audiences.
ii) Our new commercial appeals to the Aussie spirit of doing the right thing. It captures the exuberance and positivity of making films that employ tradies, musicians, writers and creative talent.
Both of these campaigns have been supported widely by Channels Nine, Seven, Ten, Foxtel and every cinema screen in the country.
In two years the public perspective has changed and 74% support our position that piracy is theft, and 52% agree more regulation is needed to prevent piracy and only 20% disagree.
The Australian film industry is critical to what we are as Australians. My generation grew up with GALLIPOLI, BREAKER MORANT, MURIEL’S WEDDING and the current crew with RED DOG, HAPPY FEET, HEARTBREAK RIDGE and LION. Wondrous Australian films are often more important than people we meet in shaping our world.
With a population of only 25 million if piracy is not more strongly addressed there will be no Australian film industry with the loss of jobs, taxation and the very real and bleak prospects of being a remote Los Angeles or Beijing suburb.
With the minor modification we recommend to the law, we can improve the effectiveness of site blocking and continue to make progress on dealing with the scourge of piracy which continues to threaten the livelihood of thousands of Australians engaged in creative endeavours seeking to continue to tell great Australian stories through the medium of film.
Finally, there is great urgency.
a) Already viability of local film production is in jeopardy as illustrated by the beautiful Australian film LION that has been illegally downloaded 331,000 times and based on research likely streamed 600,000 times. This represents a direct loss of revenue to the production company and the tax office. This in turn projects to the financial community that is making the raising of investment for film production more difficult.
b) Easy access facilitated by Google means kids are crossing to the dark side and getting lured into bad habits and taken to criminal neighbourhoods that proliferate with prostitution, pornography, drug selling and illegal gambling.
As Steve Jobs famously said:
“From the earliest days at Apple, I realised that we thrived when we created intellectual property. If people copied or stole our software we’d be out of business. If it weren’t protected there’d be no incentive for us to make new software or product designs. If protection of intellectual property begins to dissipate creative companies will disappear or never get started. But there’s a simpler reason. It’s wrong to steal. It hurts other people. And it hurts your own character."
Australia can win. The only losers are pirates and Google both of whom pay no tax yet cause shocking damage to our jobs, economy and way of life.
Graham W Burke, AO
Co-Chief Executive Officer