Australian movie chief Graham Burke has warned an international movie convention that people who run pirate sites are the "same type" of individuals who sell heroin. Noting that a multi-pronged approached is required to tackle illegal downloading, he said it's now time to start fining persistent Aussie pirates.

Graham Burke can be accused of many things but moderating his words is certainly not one of them.

The outspoken co-chief of media company Village Roadshow has been front and center of many of Australia’s movie piracy battles and has authored some of their most controversial comments.

Speaking at the 71st Australian International Movie Convention today, Burke continued the trend. He launched a fresh attack on Internet piracy, accusing pirate site operators of terrible crimes and site users of undermining the livelihoods of creators.

“Nothing is more important or urgent, as every day that passes tens of thousands of our movies are stolen and it is a devastating contagious plague,” a copy of Burke’s speech obtained by The Australian (subscription) reads.

According to the Village Roadshow chief, the main problem is the sites that facilitate this “theft”, which are not only extremely dangerous places to visit but are run by equally dangerous people.

“We are sending our kids to very dangerous online neighborhoods — the pirates are not good guys,” Burke said.

“These aren’t roguish, basement-dwelling computer geeks — these are the same type of people that sell heroin.”

Describing pirate site operators as often having connections to “organised, international crime syndicates”, Burke warned that they only care about revenue, making “tens of millions blitzing our kids with [high-risk] advertising.”

Interestingly, Burke said that nearly three-quarters of people acknowledge that piracy is theft but noted that many downloaders are unaware that what they are doing is “wrong” because government inaction means that “dangerous” pirate sites are still open for business.

“In our research we repeatedly come across people who have not been told [piracy is wrong and is theft], and assume from continued practice, that it is socially and legally acceptable, and that it does no harm or that their individual activity won’t make any difference,” he said.

“People wouldn’t go into a 7-Eleven and swipe a Mars bar. People are fundamentally honest and fundamentally decent.”

But with site-blocking and making more content legally available only part of the solution, the Village Roadshow chief says his company has decided that taking action against the public is now required. Repeat infringers, Burke says, will now be subjected to legal action.

“We are planning to pursue our legal rights to protect our copyright by suing repeat infringers — not for a king’s ransom but akin to the penalty for parking a car in a loading zone,” ABC reports.

“If the price of an act of thievery is set at say AUS$300 (US$228), we believe most people will think twice.”

While it’s too early to estimate exactly how many Aussie pirates might be caught up in the dragnet, it’s fair to say the numbers could be considerable. Mad Max: Fury Road, a Village Roadshow produced movie, is said to have been illegally downloaded 3.5 million times. Australia has a population of around 23.5 million.

However, the age group of people said to be carrying out much of the pirating presents a problem. Burke says that piracy among adults has dropped in the past year due to the availability of services such as Netflix. However, the growing threat appears to come from a much younger age group.

“There has been some decline in piracy amongst Australian adults in the last year and part of this is due to new streaming services … which demonstrates that when product is legally available, this is a critical factor,” Burke said.

“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 per cent pirating movies.”

And there lies the dilemma. While Burke thinks that fines might be the answer to further reducing piracy among the adult population, he’s going to have a crisis on his hands if he starts targeting his big problem group – children. Kids can be sued in Australia but that sounds like a horrible proposition that will only undermine the campaign’s goals.

Whoever his company ‘fines’ or goes on to sue, Burke says the money accrued will go back into education campaigns to further reduce piracy. It’s a model previously employed by the RIAA, who eventually abandoned the strategy.