Rupert Murdoch's Australian News Limited CEO Kim Williams has controversially labelled web pirates as "copyright bandits", and says that downloading movies and TV shows is much worse than the theft that occurred during the English riots of last year.
Speaking at the Australian International Movie Convention, Williams called for new legislation to tackle the serious problem of web piracy, in which, according to Williams, a third of Australians participate in. The figures Williams quotes come from the IPAF, a group linked to the AFACT and the MPAA, whose research has been questioned by critics in the past.
Australia's piracy rates are one of the highest in the world, but most commentators point to the lack of legal content due to the lack of competition in the cable TV industry, of which News Limited's partially owned company, Foxtel, holds a virtual monopoly in by being the only subscription TV option for most households. Australia has the highest rate of piracy for hit shows like Game of Thrones, with Foxtel at first delaying the showing of the show until the US season had ended.
But Williams warned that if the government does not act in introducing tougher copyright laws, the web piracy problem will get out of control. Citing figures that show 65% of all BitTorrent distributed materials are of an infringing nature, Williams said that in the future, the problem will get so bad that the current 65% will "look like a pathetically modest nun's picnic."
Williams then continued to compare web piracy to theft, and controversially opined that the "theft" that occurs via web piracy is much worse than that of the English riots of 2011. "Illegally downloading is the equivalent of smashing a window and taking it," Williams said. "But the scale of this theft makes the London riots of last year look like children stealing [candy] from a shop."
The English riots of 2011 led to 3,100 arrests and the death of five people.
And critics will argue that web piracy cannot be compared to theft, because web piracy at best means a lost sale of a legitimate original. With real store theft, not only is a sale lost, but the original is taken and this prevents the ongoing sale of the original until the store owners replaces the item. The difference would be analogous to photocopying a book from a library and stealing a book from a book store.
Ironically, News Limited's parent company was embroiled in its own piracy controversy earlier in the year, when allegations were made by the Australian Financial Review newspaper and separately by a BBC programme which accused one of the company's subsidiaries of promoting the piracy of competitor's services as part of a dirty-tricks campaign. Mr Williams denied these allegations when they were first made in March.
A transcript of Williams's speech can be read here.