News Limited's chief executive has lashed out at "copyright kleptomaniacs" and demanded tougher laws to stop people downloading movies and TV shows online.
Speaking at the Australian International Movie Convention on the Gold Coast, Kim Williams described unauthorised downloading as "scumbag theft" which would worsen without swift action.
Mr Williams says the latest Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation research found more that 37 per cent of Australians admit to having downloaded material illegally with 60 per cent doing it at least once per week.
He said film piracy alone costs the Australian economy $1.37 billion last year.
"These persistent downloaders are far less likely than others to purchase DVDs, download pay-per-view programming, buy content from iTunes or even go to the movies," he said.
"That's money out of all our pockets.
And culture taken from all our lives.
And cultural development taken from our nation." Mr Williams has called on the Federal Government to act, saying a new set of copyright laws was needed to protect digital media from theft.
"Stealing from shops has always been illegal and so should stealing from HBO or Fox or Village Roadshow," he said.
"Illegally downloading [digital content] is the equivalent of smashing a window and taking it.
But the scale of this theft makes the London riots of last year look like children stealing a lolly 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." 'New era' Mr Williams took aim at Australians for downloading content on BitTorrent and using proxies to get around geographical restrictions on foreign websites.
And he warned that it would only increase as more people got faster access to the internet.
"It is getting worse and will get even worse still once everyone in Australia has access to super-speed broadband through the National Broadband Network," he said.
"Some say internet traffic will quadruple between now and 2016." He said Australian digital copyright laws needed to be strengthened to "bring them into the digital age".
However, he said the industry too has a responsibility to educate consumers about alternatives.
"In the most general terms all of us - content providers, media companies, ISPs and especially legislators - need to recognise that we live in a new era," he said.
"We live and do business in the digital age, but our copyright laws continue to exist in the analog era and the paper age.
"Digital property isn't just a quirky add-on to our economy any more - increasingly it is dominating our economy, and itâs time we recognised its importance to our future prosperity."