Hurrah! The War on Terror is over! Well, at least it seems we’re no longer afraid of terrorists, because when Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus warned that illegally copying DVDs costs the industry $1.7 billion, for a change terrorism didn’t get a mention.

Major distributors have been trying to scare us off illegal copying for years. Australia’s laws were “harmonised” under the US Free Trade Agreement so copyright infringement became a crime. Gloomy doom-music-laden messages play before every movie. Serious people tell us that “piracy funds terrorism”.

“The Abu Sayyaf — blamed for the worst terrorist attacks in the South-East Asian country — are likely behind the illegal copying of movies onto DVDs,” reckons Edu Manzano, chairman of the Philippines’ Optical Media Board.

“The Yakuza are behind them in Japan and the Hezbollah are involved in the Middle East,” though he admits they lack “documentary evidence”.

Bob Debus’ weekend media release omits the “piracy funds terrorism” trope, saying instead that it funds “a range of criminal activity like drug trafficking and money laundering”. (Hang on, isn’t money laundering self-funding?) But by the time the story hit the ABC the government’s current bogeyman had been added to the list: child pornography. Ooh err.

Terrorism is insufficiently scary. Neither are the actual dollar costs.

$1.7 billion? Where’s that come from? We asked the minster’s office but they didn’t reply before deadline. US “estimates” on that scale have been thoroughly debunked.

Screen Australia says DVD sales boomed in 2007, up around 20% over the previous year. The entire net worth of the DVD sales industry is “only” $1.2 billion, which makes a “piracy cost” of $1.7 billion sound unlikely. They quote LEK Consulting’s estimate that 47 million illegal DVDs were in circulation, compared with 52 million legitimate sales — at a cost to the industry of $231 million, not $1.7 billion.

Of course “the industry” wants things to sound bad. But with record US box office receipts and booming DVD sales, could it be that there’s simply too many hangers-on between producer and consumer? After all, the $29 retail price of a music CD only delivers a dollar or two to the actual musicians. Apple’s iTunes and other online distributors take a far smaller cut, and the punters are starting to realise that.

If they’d rather slip a disc into their PC and burn Dark Knight for a mate rather than pay full retail, it means they don’t think the price is right.

Peter Fray

Help us keep up the fight

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today and get your first 12 weeks for $12.

Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW