AN ACTION will be filed with the Australian Federal Court today as a first step in an intense new push to stamp out internet piracy of movies and TV shows and protect the local industry.

Graham Burke, co-chairman and co-CEO of Australian distributor and exhibitor Village Roadshow, is leading the charge with the support of the big US movie studios.

“What we’re doing is leading a major thrust on behalf of the Australian industry,” Burke explained to News Corp Australia.
If such action isn’t taken, he added, “there just won’t be a creative Australia. There won’t be a Red Dog, there won’t be a Mad Max: Fury Road, there won’t be a Muriel’s Wedding — we’ll be tramped by a lot of foreign criminals that put zero back into the business and collect multi-millions in advertising.”

The legal action — to force internet service providers to block a peer-to-peer downloading site — is the first to be taken under controversial site-blocking legislation passed by the Australian government last June.

Piracy site SolarMovie (which operates under several different international suffixes) claims to offer 51,236 movies and 5793 TV shows “absolutely for free”.

“Right now, their star movie is Deadpool,” Burke explained.

Deadpool — the No.1 movie at the Australian box office which was only released in cinemas last Thursday — is touted for free streaming by the site alongside the likes of Zoolander 2, Dirty Grandpa, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and several films which are yet to be released in Australia. It also offers downloads of new US cable TV dramas such as Vinyl, The Walking Dead and Billions.

The Australian action comes just days after a similar filing saw Singapore’s High Court order ISPs to take down or block access to
Burke said this site was only the first of many “parasites” to be targeted.

“Once the court gives us that approval (to block SolarMovie), we will be moving on a wide front to take down massive numbers of these sites. And these are pretty bad people. The advertisers on these websites include gambling, hookers and party drugs. It’s the pirate’s choice of neighbourhood.

“These guys just steal other people’s creativity and have a fabulous advertising model because they have no costs, they employ no one.”
The court action is only step one in a multi-pronged awareness campaign to be rolled out in the coming months by a new body Burke and other major players in the industry have formed, called Creative Content Australia.

Their campaign will be modelled on the likes of Quit and Tidy Towns.

“Most people when you explain to them that (downloading movies) is not a victimless crime, that it hurts people in film production, people in creative endeavours, people in cinemas and television stations — in fact 906,000 jobs, according to government estimates — they say, ‘Oh we didn’t realise that,’ and they stop,” says Burke.

“So this is a combination of three things.

1) The ammunition the government gave us which is the legislation to block the sites of these criminals. 2) To win people over with a huge campaign across all media saying: This is wrong, do the right thing. And 3) Making product available in a timely and price-attractive way, such as Presto, such as Netflix … And there’s probably eight or nine different means now, including iTunes, where you can download individual movies at prices that are totally comparable with the US and cheaper in fact than the UK.”

Village Roadshow learnt the hard way the downsides of not releasing productions in a timely way when, in 2014, it delayed the release of The LEGO Movie until three months after the US, in order to hit the Easter school holidays in Australia.

The movie was downloaded thousands of times in the intervening months, losing the distributor potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions.
Burke says “98 per cent” of his company’s movies now release simultaneously.

A 2014 campaign which saw the likes of George Miller and Joel Edgerton speak out against copyright infringement “did see a dip” in illegal activity, Burke says, “but it wasn’t accompanied by site-blocking.

“Now, in the next six months, we’ve got the ammunition, we have the law and we’ll be taking down these criminal websites.”
Burke is supremely confident the action filed with the Federal Court will be successful.

“We’ve got the law on our side.”