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Village Roadshow slams the 'sleazy neighbourhood' of online piracy

In a colourful submission to the Government's proposed site-blocking legislation, the head of Village Roadshow has described piracy as a world of sleazy neighbourhoods, "leeches" and "effluent."

Image by Nicolas Raymond, CC BY 2.0

"Pirate sites are a sleazy neighbourhood which our children go to and they are selling hardcore pornography and scams such as party pills and steroids."

That's according to the head of Village Roadshow who has thrown his support behind new anti-piracy legislation put forward to allow rights holders to petition for the blocking of overseas piracy websites.

The site-blocking legislation was tabled in Parliament by Attorney-General George Brandis at the close of the autumn sitting period. At its heart, the bill allows rights holders to seek a court order requiring Internet service providers to block overseas-based websites that are seen to facilitate piracy, preventing Australian access.

The Government put the proposed legislation up for review by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, calling for comment from the public and industry groups. Village Roadshow has now made a submission to the Committee, saying the bill "will assist the creators of entertainment to protect their rights and will produce a broad range of benefits".

In the submission, Village Roadshow Co-CEO, Co-Chairman and self-identified "champion of Australian filmed entertainment" Graham Burke says piracy would cost Australia its creative industries.

"Continued rampant online piracy means the Australian film and television drama production industry would be shut down," Burke writes. "Australian families and kids...have the cinema as the social hub of their communities. If the product is stolen there will be no viability and not only will there be massive job losses but arguably the soul of communities will go dark."

Amidst images of families in "Frankston, Parramatta, Ararat or Launceston" Burke concedes that a crackdown on piracy would bring benefits to film studios in the US, but says this is this is "secondary to the benefit to Australia and Australians."

As far as site-blocking laws are concerned, Burke argues that similar measures are "working successfully in Europe" before making the case that such websites are "leeches" -- though not in the sense that many torrenters may know the term.

"Pirate websites are widely reported to be run by criminal gangs who make millions of dollars by selling advertising," Burke writes. "Unlike free or pay TV they create no content and provide no entertainment. They are leeches living off stolen product."

In offering support for the industry-developed code of conduct, Burke also has a backhanded compliment for Australia's ISPs.

"Village considers that ISPs established a great business but, like a factory spilling effluent into a river, the unintended consequence of their business is piracy, with its damning effects on our people, our culture and the economy," the submission read.

"The ISPs in Australia gross $4 billion, while the cinema box office totals $1 billion. Ignore the scare tactics about the Code raising the cost of the ISP service as for the large ISPs, it is likely only a few extra low-level employees and minimum costs will be incurred in the scheme of things."

Burke argues that the "educational, inspirational and positive" industry code and its three-strike piracy notification system will help to win over the public.

"Just like people no longer smoke in restaurants and we have 'tidy towns' there is no doubt we can win hearts and minds," he said.

While noting that Village Roadshow continues to push for "legally available cheap product" and tighter release deadlines for films coming to Australia, he also said the company will continue to fight to protect the rights of creators.

"This legislation is vital to that fight," he said.