News Corp's Chernin accuses audiences of "stealing"

Picking up an “attack the audience” mantra started last year by Walt Disney’s Michael Eisner, News Corp. president Peter Chernin accused consumers of “stealing” media content through rampant free downloading over the Internet.

News Corp. president Peter Chernin says downloading movies such as Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones for free over the Internet is no different than shoplifting at a department store.

Chernin used a keynote speech at the Comdex conference in Las Vegas, Nev., to lambaste the public toleration of what he termed the “looting,” “piracy” and “digital hijacking” of music and motion pictures. He said unauthorized use of copyrighted content is no different than shoplifting. “If hundreds of thousands of dresses were stolen from Wal-Mart the police would assemble a task force that would have Winona Ryder shaking in her boots,” Chernin said.

After turning on the audiences who consume News Corp.’s media products, Chernin called on the media conglomerates and high technology companies to create a partnership that could be beneficial for both industries. “The most powerful catalyst for growth is not piracy, but partnership,” Chernin said.

Chernin said that secure distribution of premium entertainment over the Internet would not only lead to faster consumer adoption of broadband Internet access, but would boost sales of computer products such as servers, routers and software. “Both of our industries need to be seriously re-energized,” Chernin told the Comdex audience.

Joining Chernin at Comdex was Star Wars creator George Lucas, who supported the anti-piracy message. “I'm here to say that there is no free lunch,” Lucas said.

Lucas attempted to portray the losers in the piracy war as the workingmen and women of the entertainment business, rather than the often-vilified studio owners and their executives. “Corporations are like cockroaches. They'll survive everything,” Lucas said to wide applause.

Consumer electronics manufacturers have heard Chernin’s lecture before. “I hear this all the time,” Gary Klein, a vice president for the Consumer Electronics Association, told reporters. “They are always looking for someone else to solve their problem. If Harry Potter is on the Internet before it’s in the theaters—well, whose fault is that?”

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