Village Roadshow admits ‘mistake’ in holding back Lego Movie, as ISPs disagree on piracy

L:R iinet's David Buckingham, film maker Peter Duncan, APRA's Brett Cottle, Village's Graham Burke, Telstra's Jane Van Beelen, Malcolm Turnbull, Foxtel's Richard Freudenstein

L:R iinet’s David Buckingham, film maker Peter Duncan, APRA’s Brett Cottle, Village’s Graham Burke, Telstra’s Jane Van Beelen, Malcolm Turnbull, Foxtel’s Richard Freudenstein

The boss of Village Roadshow Graham Burke last night conceded that the film production and distribution company’s decision to hold back the Australian release of The Lego Movie had been “one hell of a mistake” and pledged to move its release dates up to coincide with overseas releases in the US. 

Burke made the declaration as part of a panel convened by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to debate issues around copyright in the wake of the release of the government’s Online Copyright Infringement Discussion Paper, which saw the content creators, internet service providers (ISPs) and consumer groups struggle to find common ground.

“On the twin issue of availability, we made one hell of a mistake with Lego (Movie),” Village Roadshow’s co-chairman Burke, told the forum. “It was an Australian film, we financed it together with Warner Brothers and it was made here in Kings Cross, in Australia, and because it was so important we held it for a holiday period. It was a disaster.

“It caused it to be pirated very widely. As a consequence – no more – our policy going forward is that all our movies will be released within the time and date of the United States.”

Burke signalled that other cinema players would such as 20th Century Fox, Paramount and Universal would also follow suit, but added the industry wanted legislative action to combat piracy.

“Movies will come out at the same time but the other important element in this is that there has to be a theatrical window so the business model can work and movies can get made,” he said.

Fellow panellist, CEO of Foxtel Richard Freudenstein, who last week dropped the entry price of  the pay-TV service as the company seeks to compete with a new tide of online entrants, echoed Burke’s remarks: “People like us to have a role to play in making sure our content is accessible and available.”

However, Freudenstein also urged the industry and government to act against piracy through shutting down access to pirated content sites, arguing it was an existential threat.

“There is a simple way with pirate sites and that is to shut them down,” said the Foxtel boss. “The content owners have to go to a court – so there is judicial oversight, get an order and ask the ISPs to shut down sites. That will be effective, it has been seen to be effective overseas, another site might open up and then you shut that down. This will stop a lot of it.

“If we sit and wait and don’t introduce some scheme in Australia soon then there won’t be an industry. The business model for creating expensive movies and expensive TV is much more complex than has been described. If there aren’t models that can make that work and we are relying on advertiser supported content on YouTube to support the content industry then it is going to be a very very very different type of content.”

“Different type of TV shows, different types of movies that we have in the future. We are going to have a lot more cats on skateboards and a lot less Game of Thrones.”

This view was not shared by consumer group Choice, which spent much of yesterday duelling with Foxtel over the price of content,which argued more still needed to be done on price and availability of content.

“We have obviously seen the prices of some forms of content drop in the last few years and we have welcomed that, but there is still an enormous price gap,” said Alan Kirkland CEO of Choice.

“It is about price and also availability and that’s arguably where the industry has done better. Until we grapple with price and availability then we are not going to be grapple with these (wider) problems.”

Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull, who moderated the panel, pushed both Telstra and iiNet on what sort of regulatory solution they believed should be made.

Telstra executive director, Jane Van Beelen told the forum the telco would support infringement notices being sent to consumers, but was concerned about judicial oversight.

“We would want there to be some expedited process with access to a court where those who allege infringement can put their case and people would have the opportunity to defend themselves,” said Van Beelen.

While iiNet boss David Buckingham was more intransigent on both infringement notices and also whether the ISPs should bear the cost of a scheme.

“We want to see the problem resolved” said David Buckingham, CEO of iiNet. “We have a huge responsibility in that issue ourselves and we recognise that. Where we differ is how we do it and all the research I have read points to notice schemes not working.

“I am looking for an effective and efficient outcome that solves the problem.

“There are many many countries where these schemes don’t work. Why should we contribute to a scheme that we think is ineffective?”

Nic Christensen


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