The CEO of Australia's News Limited makes no bones about his belief that digital piracy is a serious problem.
The death of Mark Duggan, who was shot and killed last year by police in Tottenham, led to five nights of rioting in London that soon spread to other cities including Liverpool, Manchester and other, smaller towns. From August 6 to 10, widespread looting and arson led to property damage estimated at $316 million; over 3100 people were arrested, 186 police officers and ten firefighters were injured and five people were killed.
But that ain't nothin' in the eyes of Kim Williams, CEO of News Limited, one of Australia's biggest media conglomerates and a cornerstone company of Rupert Murdoch's massive News Corporation. Williams told an audience at the Australian International Movie Convention that the damage done by "scumbag" digital thieves is far worse than that caused by last year's rioting - and that it's only going to get worse.
"Imagine the great works that are not being produced because the digital bandits are creating virtual pirate Globe Theaters and virtual literary magazines and making off with possibly 65 percent of the profits," Williams said. "If you think I'm exaggerating, think again, because the copyright bandits of the paper age of Shakespeare and Dickens had nothing on the copyright kleptomaniacs of the digital age."
A 2012 report by the Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation claimed that more than 37 percent of Australians admitted to illegally downloading content, he said, while roughly 60 percent of "persistent downloaders" say they snag something at least once a week. Williams claimed that leaves them less likely to go to the movies, buy DVDs or pay for music from iTunes and other online services, which one estimate said cost the Australian economy $1.37 billion last year.
"That's money out of all our pockets," he said. "And culture taken from all our lives. And cultural development taken from our nation."
And he was colorfully unequivocal with his declaration that piracy is theft. "Illegally downloading [digital content] is the equivalent of smashing a window and taking it," he said. "But the scale of this theft makes the London riots of last year look like children stealing [candy] from a shop. It may be hidden from view but internet piracy has become the biggest heist since Ronnie Biggs took an interest in trains."
Exaggerated or not, Williams' point isn't entirely invalid. Piracy costs money, of that there is no doubt, but the detriment of its impact is most definitely debatable and I don't think he's doing himself or his argument any favors by making such extreme comparisons. News Limited parent company News Corporation recorded nearly $5 billion in adjusted operating income on revenues of $33.4 billion in 2011, after all, hardly what you'd call the results of a company struggling to stay afloat in a hostile and damaging market.