Content Cafe


The piracy plague: A five-step solution

by Graham Burke

Good morning.

Those of you who know me know I am passionate about many things but most of all I am passionate about beating the piracy plague.


Right now the sun is shining and business is great off the latest Star Wars, Finding Dory and Suicide Squad, a blockbuster run of big pictures.

And here we are on the Gold Coast about to enjoy some wonderful movies and great food and wine.

But at home – just over the hill from your theatres – there’s a raging bushfire coming inexorably towards you. A fire that will destroy all of your homes as, at this stage, piracy in Australia is virtually unchecked.

The evidence is real and damning.

  • Visits to pirate sites in 2015 were estimated at 78.5 billion worldwide. In Australia, a frightening 1.24 billion visits.
  • Our own 6-time Academy Award winning Australian Mad Max: Fury Road has been downloaded or streamed 3.5 million times in Australia alone. By comparison the total unit sales of our Australian DVD, pay-per-view and legal streaming came in at 516,396.
  • This weekend past – fact / not estimated – tens of thousands chose to see The Magnificent Seven and Bridget Jones’s Baby free (stolen) – NO WINDOWS.
  • Australia accounted for 12.5% of the torrents of the season 6 premiere episode of Game of Thrones and was the world’s worst offender. The US, with a population of 300 million, was third with 8.5%.

And this is the issue. For whatever reason, Australians have taken to piracy at a far greater per cap than virtually anywhere else in the world – way ahead of the US.

Now there has been some decline in piracy amongst Australian adults in the last year and part of this is due to new streaming services such as Netflix, Presto and Stan, which demonstrates that when product is legally available, this is a critical factor.

However, 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% pirating movies.

From our research let me give you some typical focus group reactions from 12-to-17-year-olds.

  • “Why should I be the sucker that has to pay for what everyone else is getting for free?”
  • “I know it’s wrong and I will stop when everyone else stops.”
  • “If you aren’t chased up for it and the websites are still running (police can cancel them) then, no, it’s not piracy.”

However, there is also good news. Let me give you some powerful facts from recent research.

  • 73% of people agree that piracy is stealing / theft.
  • 24% of people who have stopped pirating say they did so because they felt bad about it.
  • And 67% of teens understand that pirating damages the livelihoods of people working in the film and TV industry.

Ultimately, the community attitudes run very much in our favour and herein lies our greatest opportunity.

I draw the powerful analogy with smoking. 20 years ago this room would have been full of people filling up ashtrays and in restaurants 8 out of 10 people would have been smoking. Now smoking is socially taboo.

This is our over-arching aim with piracy: to reinforce positive sentiment and carry the community with us.

What is exciting is that Australian media is sympathetic or, where not, if made aware of our case then see the real position.

I have done 100 or more interviews from country radio to metro press. Journalists are mostly on board with us as their creativity and sweat of the brow is equally dependent on copyright protection.

Some that start out with “freedom of the internet” change from Saul to Paul when they discover the context and extent of the problem.

Again, no different to road rules that protect lives and copyright protects livelihoods. And it was Charles Dickens after all in 1867 who went to New York to fight the cause for American copyright (successfully).

And the potential for havoc to our way of life is frightening. As for Australian feature film production – simply stated, there will be none. Already a number of companies and individuals have been put out of business.

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 in revenue impacted their ability to finance their next film. Producer Julie Ryan said, “If we can’t monetise our productions, I can’t employ anyone.”

Red Dog producer Nelson Woss also recognised this saying: “If we as filmmakers produce something entertaining, which people love, but the film cannot expect a decent return because pirates steal it – then it’s all over. It’s not a viable business and ultimately quality Australian films won’t get made.”

It’s true of any industry. Apple’s Steve Jobs once said “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”.

There is no business model able to compete with “no windows and free.” And, in no other commercial sector is legitimate business expected to compete with stolen goods or so-called “free”.

In cinemas, you guys are the magical and exciting social and entertainment hubs of your communities. The soul of your town or suburb. What would Parramatta or Bendigo be without the glamour of the cinema for mum and dad to take the kids to or the teenagers on their first or 14th date? Just dead and boring retail.

And there is also the vital question of what we are as Australians.

There will be no Gallipoli, no Muriel’s Wedding, no Red Dog, or for those of you who are about to see Lion this week – none of these films will even be born.

On Red Dog: True Blue, I’ve seen a rough cut and when our young hero finds the little puppy Red Dog for the first time you will have tears of joy rolling down your face. And Bryan Brown as the loving grandfather and John Jarratt as Lang Hancock are marvellous. A 10 out of 10 movie.

Lion, distributed by a competitor, is a movie I’m going to personally do everything in my power to assist with its success – an exquisite film that is both sheer entertainment and one that reinforces good values – it is part of shaping the character of what we are and how we define ourselves as Australians.

Movies like Red Dog: True Blue and Lion – with the heart and happiness they bring to our damaged planet – are what our war on piracy is all about.

I still come back to Philip Adams’ famous quote, “Do we want to be a remote Los Angeles suburb?”

And unless action is taken that will be the outcome.

There are two other aspects to piracy often little known.

Firstly, we are sending our kids to very dangerous on line neighbourhoods. The pirates are not good guys. These aren’t roguish, basement dwelling computer geeks. These are the same type of people that sell heroin. It’s been proven, they often have connections to organised, international crime syndicates.

Pirates are only about the dollars. They make tens of millions blitzing our kids with advertising for:

  • Hard core pornography. As one 14-year-old girl said in our research, “the sexual ads can be so awkward like when they pop up I try to shut them down really quick.” And these ads are really demeaning and indescribably horrible.
  • On-line gambling – easy as falling off a log. Forget restrictions on casinos, it is all out there and now.
  • Oh and if you want steroids or party drugs – easy – imagine what the sellers put in these – it’s all available.
  • Weight loss scams and banking scams a plenty.

In fact 99% of advertising on pirate websites is what is known as rogue or high risk advertising – namely antisocial or criminal.

Secondly and 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.

Movies are the “digital bait” for these criminals who are not deterred because they don’t believe they will be caught in the shady cover of internationally operated, covert pirate websites.

Just some of the facts on things that are happening out there:

  • Stealing bank and credit card information is rife.
  • Finding personal information to sell even a person’s identity for financial gain.
  • Hacking a computer and controlling it to commit fraud.

The research and evidence of this is unquestionable and one of the scariest things is 45% of the malware on infringing sites surveyed was delivered passively in a process which infects the user’s device without the user having to click a link after arriving on the page.

One of my Village colleagues who researches piracy for me has to do so on a separate laptop because it is so infested with viruses as a result of visits to pirate websites!

The dictionary defines piracy as:

“The practice of attacking ships at sea.”

This conjures up images of Johnny Depp and certain rebel / Robin Hood type good guys.

It is anything but – my definition is:

“Leeches – thieves – they employ no one – pay no Australian tax and are criminals”

Now I am confident we can eliminate the multi-million dollar income these leeches skim and bring this plague under control.

Like the plague, if we get rid of the rats and fleas, and clean up our neighbourhood, we can create a healthy environment for all of us.

Again I love analogies and those who say this can’t be done could say that about safety on the roads. It is about being ever vigilant whether it be speed limits, restrictions on drink-driving or safe intersections.

Our roads are dramatically safer and with effective action our world can be as safe from piracy.

And the benefit to you as exhibitors is that when young people especially are unable to easily access stolen goods, not only will your world stabilise, but you will also see a definite lift in your business.

Recent research from Carnegie Mellon University (Feb 2016) found that without piracy, box office revenue would have been 14% – 15% higher per year.

Korea is a market where piracy got so bad cinemas were in trouble and home entertainment actually shut down with the dismissal of all employees.

The government and industry got together and, with their own version of the 5 steps, cinemas are now up 50% in attendance on where they were at the worst. The streaming and the home entertainment sector is a powerhouse and local production is dynamic.

This boosting of legal trade will be welcomed by Treasurer Scott Morrison; our Australian ATO after all is a major partner to all of us in this room.

And to this end we are not alone.

The Liberal Government stopped the boats and thanks to legislation on site blocking have given us the weapons to stop piracy too.