Lego Batman delayed in Oz as Roadshow repeats 'hell of a mistake'

Village Roadshow lost millions to pirates after delaying "The Lego Movie," and now "The Lego Batman Movie" is being released in Australia two months after the US. So just how serious is the studio about piracy?

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3 min read
Lego Batman

Aussies hurl brickbats over brick Bat.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

They say that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

But if you're Village Roadshow, the studio behind the wildly popular Lego Movie franchise and one of the most vocal critics of film piracy, you're quite happy to make "one hell of a mistake" all over again.

On March 30 next year, Australians will be able to see "The Lego Batman Movie" in cinemas for the first time. That is, if they didn't pirate it after the US release seven weeks earlier.

Village Roadshow's film distribution arm, Roadshow Films, took to Twitter to confirm the Batman spinoff of the original "The Lego Movie" will be launched at the end of March. But the US and UK (along with a number of other countries across North and South America and Europe) will get the film by February 10 -- a staggering 48 days earlier.

But most surprising of all, this kind of delay has happened before -- and Village Roadshow admitted it was a massive screw up the first time.

Roadshow released the original "Lego Movie" in February 2014 in the United States, but Australia, which had played host to much of the production on the film thanks to local animation house Animal Logic, had to wait until April 2014.

Back then, the company's outspoken CEO Graham Burke admitted the massive error that led to pirates to run rampant in downloading the film.

"We made one hell of a mistake with Lego," Burke told an audience at the Online Copyright Infringement Forum, an industry event chaired by then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in September 2014.

"We held it for a holiday period, it was a disaster. It caused it to be pirated very widely. And as a consequence: No more. Our policy going forward is that all of our movies will release day and date with the United States."

And it was no small mistake -- while Australians waited, piracy of the film was rampant, costing Village Roadshow a reported "$3.5 million to $5 million."

Burke has long been a vocal advocate for making content "cheaper, affordable and available as early as practical." But his company has matched words with litigious action. Village Roadshow took iiNet to Federal Court in 2008, claiming the internet service provider was complicit in the piracy of its customers, and this year the movie studio has been back in court in a bid to get suspected piracy sites blocked by local ISPs.

This case is still in court awaiting judgement.

So well may Burke and other rights holders praise the industry's move to day-and-date releases, while also decrying the scourge of piracy, slamming pirate websites as "sleazy neighbourhoods" that sell "hardcore pornography and scams such as party pills and steroids", and also taking legal action against ISPs.

But if you release one of the biggest films of 2017 two months late in Australia, what is your tough talk on piracy actually worth?

And if you recognise just how monumentally you failed your customers the first time, only to do exactly the same thing two years later, just how serious are you about beating the root causes of piracy?

CNET has contacted Village Roadshow and Graham Burke for comment.