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.
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.
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.
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