LAS VEGAS (CNN/Money) -
That is what Peter Chernin, CEO of Fox and chief operating officer of Fox's parent, News Corp. (NWS: Research, Estimates), told an audience of techies at Comdex on Tuesday.
Using terms like "looting," "piracy" and "digital hijacking," Chernin said that the rampant free downloading of copyrighted material is akin to shoplifting. The big difference, however, is that downloading music and movies for free is tolerated.
"If hundreds of thousands of dresses were stolen from Wal-Mart (WMT: Research, Estimates), the police would assemble a task force that would have Winona Ryder shaking in her boots," Chernin said.
News Corp. COO Peter Chernin, above, said media and tech companies must cooperate to stop digital theft of content. (Photo: CNN/Money)
Chernin was greeted with polite applause several times during his speech. Surprisingly, given the antagonistic nature of his address, there was no booing or heckling. One possible reason is that Chernin said it was time for media conglomerates and tech companies to work together, and that doing so could be beneficial for both industries.
"The most powerful catalyst for growth is not piracy, but partnership," Chernin said.
Pointing to the examples of the cable and satellite TV industry and the DVD industry, two technological advances that media companies originally had their misgivings about, Chernin argued that encrypted distribution of entertainment over the Internet would help advance consumer adoption of broadband Internet access.
And this, Chernin said, should have a major ripple effect throughout the technology sector, leading to more demand for servers, routers and software. "Both of our industries need to be seriously re-energized," Chernin said.
Jedi mind tricks
Chernin had some help during his speech. About halfway through, he showed a video featuring anti-piracy comments from directors Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and M. Night Shyamalan as well as working-class members of the entertainment industry such as costume designers, make-up artists and cameramen.
But Chernin's biggest ally was George Lucas, who made a live appearance at Comdex to support the distributor of his "Star Wars" movie franchise. "I'm here to say that there is no free lunch," Lucas told the audience.
Lucas went on to say that the proliferation of free and illegal downloading of content on the Internet could eventually lead studios to shy away from spending as much as they do on blockbuster movies since it won't be nearly as profitable for them to do so. This could also wind up having a major impact on the quality of movies since Lucas said that the success of summer popcorn movies enable studios to finance more artsy films.
Still, Lucas said that entertainers themselves, not the big media companies, stand to lose the most if more content is available for free on the Internet. "Corporations are like cockroaches. They'll survive everything," Lucas said.
And tellingly, that comment was followed by more enthusiastic applause than anything Chernin said.