Graham Burke is the co-founder of Village Roadshow. According to the Business Review Weekly he's estimated to be worth $153 million dollars.
Burke started working in cinemas in country Victoria at the age of 14. He has gone on to be instrumental in backing some of the most iconic movies; Mad Max, The Matrix and The LEGO Movie among them. He runs Movie World, and launched 2DAYFM.
He, as Village Roadshow, is also one of Australia’s biggest political donors. Since 1998, they’ve given close to AU$4 million to both the ALP and the LNP as they campaign for new piracy legislation, and personally lobbied politicians.
It appears to have worked. On September 1st a new code of practice will come into effect around Australia, meaning that if you get caught multiple times torrenting, your contact details will be handed over to copyright holders like this guy.
Are you prepared to sue people for piracy?
Yes, it’s wrong. [They have] been warned, notices issued, that they have been doing the wrong thing. Yes we will sue people.
Are you concerned about the blowback? Because back In the 90s when the record industry started sending out invoices and lawsuits to single parents and grandmothers there was a storm of terrible publicity. Are you prepared for that?
It was really just a couple of instances of a bad news day, where they picked up a couple of instances of a single pregnant mother…
But all it’s going to take it a couple of those and it’s a really bad company story.
Not if its seen in the context that it is theft, and they have been doing the wrong thing, and they’ve been sent appropriate notices, and they’ve been dealt with accordingly. We’re certainly not going to be seeking out single pregnant mothers.
Do you have a list of people who are considered appropriate?
Well the criteria will be a person who is pirating movies. We won’t necessarily know who they are, but if they’re pirating movies on a fairly large scale they’re clearly doing the wrong thing. It’s no different to the highways of Australia where we are pretty damn safe because drunken driving and high speed driving is kept somewhat under control. If there were no laws, if there were no regulations, we wouldn’t be safe out there. And if piracy isn’t addressed, there won’t be a Casablanca, there won’t be a Red Dog, and there won’t be a Gallipoli. There won’t be the business model that allows them to be made.
In the past year there’s been a large take up of Australians getting systems like VPNs (virtual private networks), and it largely took off because people wanted to access Netflix in the United States. I have a concern that with the rise of site blocking and this new code that it’s only going to shift more and more people to that environment. If more Australians are going in to the dark web, how do you go about dealing with that?
That’s why we’re going to put a big emphasis on getting people to do the right thing. I think if people are appealed to in the right way, they’ll react appropriately.
Korea was the country that got the worst epidemic of piracy first. Why? Because they were the first country with high speed internet. It got so bad in Korea that the entire home entertainment industry shut down. Everybody lost their jobs, it closed. It got so bad that the communications industry and the government worked together to address it, and a large part of what they did was a big campaign of be a good downloader, do the right thing. And the Korean results in combating piracy have been very impressive.
As part of that there are things that the content industry are going to have to do as well, and one of the other complaints is the amount of time it takes for Australians to get particular kinds of content. You’re in the movie business so we’ll focus on that: you released The Lego Movie, which was made here, but Australians had to wait months and months so you could align the release date around school holidays. And on the back of that you said Village Roadshow wasn’t going to do that again, but we are still waiting for certain kinds of content.
It’s a film that would have no audience if it wasn’t released in school holidays; if you released it in February nobody would go. So you wait until Easter.
In that gap when it was opened in the States and you knew you had to hold off until school holidays to release it, you must have known it was being downloaded in that gap. What was going through your head at that point?
I think The Lego Movie, as it turned out, it was much more than a kids movie. It was just a damn good movie. In retrospect, if we did it again, we would have gone day and date [release]. We didn’t realise how big a movie it was.
You also put on a screening of that film in parliament and it formed quite a key part of how you were lobbying the government. I want to talk about how politics works for you. Because famously Village Roadshow has given somewhere in the vicinity of $4 million.
Over the last ten or fifteen years, but yes, we are contributors. I think companies have a responsibility to their shareholders, they have a responsibility to their staff to provide them with security. And we also have a responsibility to be good citizens Part of that is contributing to charities and political parties to ensure vigorous and good government.
What does it get you? From an outside standpoint I have no idea how the conversation goes between, ‘we’ll give X amount to a political party’… does that give you buy-in when you want to call George Brandis?
I don’t believe it does.
You don’t think giving money to political parties means that they pay attention when they say; Graham Burke from Village Roadshow says he wants to have coffee?
I’d hope I’d get a coffee as a fairly significant employer of people in Australia. But not much beyond that, if the case is not good and strong and proper.
At the very least a choc-top. You’ve been the most influential public person in the campaign against piracy. When you’re going to talk to Steven Conroy or George Brandis or Malcolm Turnbull, how do you pitch?
Piracy is theft and if it’s not addressed there’ll be a whole lot of Australian people out of work, both in terms of the production sector, the distribution sector and the cinema sector. It’s wrong and there are laws in 34 European companies to site-block [sites that enable piracy such as The Pirate Bay] and it’s been very effective. That’s how I pitched it.
If someone was sitting in front of you who had uploaded a torrent, what would you like to say to them?
I’d say; are you aware that what you’re doing is theft? Are you aware that ultimately the final extension of it is that there’ll be a lot of people who lose their jobs, and the richness of the community will be impacted? Because films and TV series won’t get made; there won’t be a business model to get them made.
Increasingly one of the other film companies, E1 Entertainment, has been releasing films directly on to digital platforms. They did it with The Mule, and Infini. Is that something that you would like to replicate in time?
No. For significant feature films there’s got to be some window so that the revenue can be earned in the theatres before it goes to the home entertainment window, at which point you’re tapping a lower cost audience.
If you weren’t also in the theatre business do you think you’d still feel that way?
Totally. The cinema experience, firstly, is a significant part of the revenue chain, but secondly it sets up the respect, the image of the film, for people to want to rent, buy and own it. Cinema puts the film on the stage.
Can you imagine a time where this beautiful palace to cinema doesn’t exist anymore? When films are just going straight to people’s houses and that people have elaborate home cinemas?
People will always want to go out. I have DVDs at home of movies, and I leave them lying there go and see them in the cinema.
When you own a cinema it’s a lot easier.
For me it was a pretty exciting experience when video first came out. My daughters would be looking at videos at home – because we had them when other people didn’t – and then on Sunday they’d say, Dad we’re going down to Doncaster to go to the movies. And the movie they were going to see was one that they’d looked at on Friday night on video. People will want to go out, full stop.
Just lastly before I leave you: are you more of a popcorn person or a choc top person?
Neither. I’m a water person.