Why Was It Poland That Led The European Revolt Against ACTA?

from the understanding-history dept

In retrospect, it is now clear that the pivotal moment in the campaign against ACTA was last January, when thousands of people took to the streets in Poland despite the sub-zero temperatures there. A few weeks later, similar protests took place across the continent, especially in Eastern Europe, which then influenced politicians at all levels, culminating in the rejection of ACTA by the European Parliament on July 4.

Although the SOPA Blackout day was one inspiration for the European street protests, a key question is: why did they happen first in Poland? Krzysztof Kietzman points us to an interesting piece of research, newly available in English as “The Circulations of Culture. On Social Distribution of Content,” that goes some way to offering an answer. Here’s the summary:

It describes how books, music, and movies circulate among Poles who sometimes buy them, but more often than not acquire them via the Internet and borrow or copy them from friends.

Interestingly, according to the publication’s introduction, the document itself played a role in the ACTA debate when it first appeared (in Polish) in January 2012:

The publication took place at the height of the debate on ACTA and became an important element in public debates on copyright and regulation of online circulations of content.

One reason why it may have provoked discussion is because of the terminology it uses:

this is not a report about “pirates” that conduct illegal activities, but rather about people who engage in informal content sharing practices.

As the report’s authors explain:

abandoning the simple legal-illegal binary has yet another reason. The goal of this report is to foster real dialogue on the issue of acquiring cultural content in Poland. The overuse of labels such as “piracy” or “theft” will not improve the chances of establishing such dialogue. An opposition between “formal” and “informal” is in our opinion a much better way for framing this debate.

Here are some of the key findings:

62% of Poles do not participate in either the formal or the informal circulations of cultural content. The primary form of cultural activity for most Poles is probably watching television and listening to the radio.

Things are even worse when it comes to buying stuff:

13% of Poles purchase content, as opposed to 33% that obtain it through informal, digital circulations. Only 13% of Poles have purchased a book, a movie, or a musical recording in the year before the survey. On the other hand, one third of Poles are engaged in the informal sphere understood here as sharing books, music, and movies in digital formats via the Internet.

This indicates how important the informal circulation is in terms of sustaining culture in Poland. A key discovery is that informal and formal patterns of acquisition are not mutually exclusive:

The survey did not corroborate the thesis about informal circulations supplanting the formal ones. The people who most actively engage in the informal content circulations (i.e. Internet users who download files) constitute the largest segment of the purchasers. They comprise 32% of all people purchasing books, 31% of all people purchasing movies, and over half of all people who buy music. They also make up the largest segment of people who lend each other content. People from that group probably treat both informal and formal circulations as complementary.

Of course, this is precisely what a number of other studies have found, so it’s no surprise to see it confirmed here.

The following statistics go some way to explaining why so many Poles took to the streets in sub-zero temperatures to protests against ACTA:

92% of active [Internet] users claim to have engaged in informal circulations if their definition is expanded to include all avenues of content access (such as streaming, sharing files with friends, etc.). If we include the informal circulation of content stored on physical media (e.g. sharing and copying books or CDs and DVDs) in the aforementioned definition, then practically all of the respondents (95%) claim to have engaged in such content circulations. The survey indicates, that among people who actively use the Internet, the informal, non-market economy of cultural content is the norm.

The cultural importance of this shared content emerges from another figure:

The most commonplace attitude of active Internet users (50% of respondents) towards the informal circulations is moderate and focused on the broadening of cultural horizons. For them, the crucial factor is the ability to know more and see more, not acquire free content.

That’s not to say that money isn’t a factor:

75% of active internet users indicated price and a wider selection of content available on the Internet as justifications for their behavior. Two-thirds of them pointed to such factors as availability without delays (typical of formal circulations, where global content arrives in Poland often with a delay) or the selection available.

That is, much of the sharing that takes place in Poland is as a result of copyright companies failing to make their material available in a timely fashion, or pricing it inappropriately for the market there. Again, this is just what other research has found, notably the “Media Piracy in Emerging Economies” that Techdirt reported on before.

That work was led by Joe Karaganis, and in a kind of postword to the present research, he offers perhaps the best analysis of why it was Poland, and the other former Soviet bloc countries, that led the ACTA revolt:

most visible was the demand for transparency and democratic accountability in policymaking — a demand juxtaposed to the secretive construction and potentially far-ranging obligations of the Agreement. Anti-ACTA sentiment became a channel, in this respect, for dissatisfaction with the wider democratic deficits of European governance.

Less explicit, but no less important in my view, was the use of this secretive process to target a prevalent and largely normalized form of access to culture in Eastern Europe — the copying, sharing, and downloading of media. These are the compensatory strategies that allowed young Poles, especially, to participate in the wider media culture in which they — and everyone else — now grow up. It is no accident, in this context, that the major anti-ACTA protests and first government rejections of the agreement came from Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria — the economic periphery of Europe.

That is, young people in these countries were not prepared to give up without a fight wide-ranging access to the kind of culture that had been denied to their parents’ generation because of Soviet censorship, and to which they now had access despite their continuing economic disadvantages. And so they took to the streets.

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Comments on “Why Was It Poland That Led The European Revolt Against ACTA?”

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Violated (profile) says:

Re: Nice chronology

It could well be about 2 years before TPP(A) is at the stage that ACTA was at during the start of this year.

We would welcome those people working on TPP(A) to show some sense and to work on some real copyright reform but we do need to see their official end release first before we know how much danger TPP(A) will be.

CETA should be our first target and at least they are working on making it more acceptable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Nice chronology

@ #8

‘CETA should be our first target and at least they are working on making it more acceptable.’

or so they say. the truth will be kept from the people for as long as possible. once the people know, then things get twisted to mean something totally different. in short, i dont and wont trust the lying fuckers for as long as my arse points down!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Nice chronology

Not only that, but TPP does not involve europe! It will probably influence a lot of future free trade agreements so indirectly we europeans should care, but in essence it is USA pushing south america, oceania and asia.

ACTA had all parts of the world represented and stipulates some completely absurd ideas for how to make IP-enforcement stricter. The appointed czars of copyright was a huge part of why so many people started to kick it.

CETA is Canada and EU and it will thus be of lesser importance to the rest of the world. Also, apart from the ACTA-like passages CETA looks relatively fair. Contrary to ACTA the drafts have included some exceptions and protections making for a far better framework for a better deal. It also does not make for a copyright oligarchy since it is bilateral.

Anonymous Coward says:

A minor point

so it’s no surprise to see it confirmed here.

The word you’re looking for is “corroborated”. “Confirmed” sounds far too smug, and smug self-satisfaction is for the liars, the shills and the deluded in their big, scary echo chamber.
This site really should be better than smugly proclaiming “we woz right all along”, even if you were.

PaulT (profile) says:

“Why Was It Poland That Led The European Revolt Against ACTA?”

I really need to resist the urge to make a comment about how the Poles have already had experience with fascist regimes removing their freedoms to further their own poisonous and dangerous agenda, but is it too early to Godwin a thread?

Oh well, in before one of the usual trolls starts attacking Poland.

Violated (profile) says:


Those in Poland should be rightly proud of their strong show against ACTA. It was certainly them that showed to the rest of Europe that united we could take down ACTA.

The failure of SOPA and PIPA did of course fuel this fire but I even thought myself that action against ACTA would be too little and too late. After all ACTA had already been shipped into Europe disguised as a “fish” and where member countries were already doing the formal signing. So all that remained was for the European Parliament to pass ACTA and they have a long history of rubber stamping what the European Commission wants.

A key point in this protest was when the Polish representative signed ACTA while in Japan. The locals in Poland really blew a fuse and when she saw their anger she backed down saying that her signing was a mistake and she did not realise what she was signing. It was not long following that the Polish Government suspended the ratification of ACTA pending the EP vote.

This showed to the rest of Europe that we could take out ACTA where soon we began to do so. Since those in Poland were out in large numbers in sub-zero temperatures then it is not like we had an excuse to stay at home.

There were certainly demonstrations in most European cities and Germany put out a very strong showing. The Pirate Party had handled the organization. These whole demonstrations to me were reflected in one photo of a young Swedish woman who was so mad at ACTA that she had obviously left her computer behind to pull a bamboo bean cane out of her garden to make her own sign and then she went out on the streets for the first time in her life to do some political activism.

People should be rightly proud of what was achieved, when ACTA now lies dead in the EU, but it is just a shame that bad legislation that both harms the Internet and our sharing culture is an unending fight. We can only hope politicians soon learn to handle the Internet gently and to do so based on facts and on real damage.

Anonymous Coward says:

at a rough guess, i would say the years of oppression was the biggest instigator to fight for something. what these people wanted and still want was/is the right to share, the right to socialize with others whilst listening to music and watching a movie. the right to learn of new bands and music styles, the things the industry gatekeepers withhold and suppress until they can make money. what the people didn’t want was those rights removed and to go back to the ‘Iron Curtain’ days where no one had hardly anything and everyone was too scared to share. we are fast heading back to those old days because no one is interested in what ‘the people’ want or say only in how much power and money they can get

anon says:


Poland could be the blueprints for the rest of the world, specifically Europe. If they can put enough pressure on there government to have a fair discussion about copyright. I wonder if the Poles involved in this will use the American Republican parties report about how copyright is stifling innovation and is unfair, this could be the beginning of the end for the copyright monopolists, well lets hope so.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why Was It Poland That Led The European Revolt Against ACTA?

Simple: Poland had no Liberty for along time, now it has and they do not want to go back to when they were did not have liberty.

We here in America on the other hand have had liberty for so long we have forgotten how precious it is, and how easy it is to lose.

Voice from Poland says:

Please don’t use this “Poland was oppressed for so long” too much. 90% of protesting were the gusy born after ’89 in normal democratic country, who never were oppressed more than the rest of EU citizens.

I believe that the case is that the reasons are:
1) economical – for lat 20 years prices were close to “Western” while incomes were 4-5 times smaller. It means that if teenagers wanted to play modern computer game he need to download it – the cost of hardware was high enough to use all money resources that could be spent for this. So it was obviuos that piracy is not so bad and that it is nice to have one, or few legal games, but most of these that you are playing are “informally shared”. Now economy changed a little bit, but habits are still habits…
2) Demography – there are very many young people in Poland. A lot of them are studying (more tan 50% of people between 19-24). T

maclypse (profile) says:

“That is, young people in these countries were not prepared to give up without a fight wide-ranging access to the kind of culture that had been denied to their parents’ generation because of Soviet censorship, and to which they now had access despite their continuing economic disadvantages. And so they took to the streets.”

That says it all really. The population in the former soviet block remembers, and know first hand what it’s like to not have all the rights we take for granted, and they are willing to fight to defend them.

We on the other hand… “the west”, we have grown lazy and silent, become too trusting of our governments and our industries and just flat out assume they have our best interests at heart, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We could all use a healthy dose of dictatorship to rekindle our fire for protecting our rights.

BS says:

This article is poorly written.

Poland isn’t eastern Europe, gosh you uneducated people LEARN it!
Parents of the young ones were denied things so now the young fight… this is ridiculous.

Subzero temps, subzero in C not F so it’s not cold for January, why mentioning that twice, to picture Poland as a cold country?

Economic periphery? are you kidding me??? Since there is a subzero temp in the winter and according to you it’s “east” you think (w/o checking the facts) that it’s bad in Poland??? WTH you m*r*n, your lack of knowledge hurts.

Maybe the US and other European countries have issues w/so called recession but Poland was the only country that wasn’t affected by that even though it’s always a great excuse to use that argument “bad economy” to rip people off.

The person who wrote the article knows VERY LITTLE and I hope s/he isn’t a real writer as it is a bad piece of “news” and that’s for sure.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Erm, no offence in referring to your own country, but:

“Poland isn’t eastern Europe”

In what way? It’s in the eastern half of the European continent and was behind the Iron Curtain in the Second World War. Sorry if you’re offended, but those are the most common meanings when people refer to “Eastern Europe”. Which definition are you using where it doesn’t apply to Poland?

“Subzero temps, subzero in C not F so it’s not cold for January”

Erm, subzero in C is still cold. Not as cold as Siberia or northern Scandinavia, perhaps, but if it drops below zero degrees C (the temperature at which water freezes), it’s still cold.

“Economic periphery?”

This is perhaps unfair (a quick wiki search shows Poland to be 10th highest GDP of the European continent). But, not only was the comment referring to the block of countries as a whole (and nobody can denty that Slovenia and Bulgaria truly are on the periphery), but it was a QUOTE from the report being written about.

So, your complaints consist of 2 things that are factually true (unless you have alternative definitions you wish to share), and one that’s not even written by the author you’re attacking.

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