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No. 94 March 2012

vACTAlism in Internet

Last week’s sequence, from my point of view, was as follows: on Monday I watch Lis live by Tomasz Lis (21.01.2012, TVP1; can be seen HERE), with a heated conversation between Zbigniew Hołdys (musician and columnist) and Jarosław Lipszyc (“Modern Poland” Foundation). I read about THAT in the press during the whole week. On Thursday my son takes part in the protest against THAT – about 15000 people protested (I quote the figure after “Gazeta Wyborcza”; HERE). On Saturday, the Ambassador of Poland, Ms. Jadwiga Rodowicz signs the agreement. The ACTA agreement can be read HERE).

ACTA (Anti-counterfeiting trade agreement) is an international contract about protection of intellectual property between Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, and USA, to which the European Union also accessed. As we can read on the Polish Radio pages (HERE) the name can be translated as “agreement against trading counterfeit goods”, but it is about protecting intellectual property, also on the Internet.
In a short time the agreement became the reason for heavy protests in the whole world, including Poland, where people go almost daily into the streets to demonstrate against it. Why? What is in it that it stirred up so many people? Don’t we like to live in a country that respects intellectual property? Or maybe we are all thieves?
There are, unfortunately, many answers to this question, and – again, unfortunately – they are often equally important. There is probably no single explanation of this problem. That is why it is so important to try to answer it individually, being honest with oneself, and try to think what is OUR, truly our opinion on all this.

ACTA, as is commonly known, relates to law regulations regarding widely understood rights to intellectual property, with an emphasis on Internet distribution. This applies to me personally – I have been publishing my texts on the Internet for nine years, also my photographs and graphics, my ideas regarding specific solutions. I have seen them all – especially the photographs – used dozens of times, mostly on auction and community portals. Many times distributors and audio shops used my pictures and texts without my knowledge and permission. Many times I read oddly twisted texts or their fragments, changed to be less recognizable, signed with some name, and being sourced on what I wrote earlier. All this is a violation of my rights, and – to a large extent – theft. But not all is theft, although it seems to be, according to current laws, and this new agreement should seal this. ACTA toughens the current legal situation, reaching absurd levels. And this is not how it should be.

The issue here is the concept of “property” in our context of the 21st century and Internet rights. My impression is that these two areas do not well fit together, that the traditional recognition of what is “mine” and what belongs to the public domain has long lost its touch with reality. And I am far from labeling all people moving in the new world with the same label as classic thieves.
In my opinion it is time to think about what “allowable usage” means, what are its boundaries. For me it would be fine to use any published written fragment, photograph or graphics, etc., as long as the source of it was clearly quoted, using a link, a title, anything. It would be largely similar to a quotation in scientific literature. And as it is widely known, a citation is a plagiarism with a named source… But it would need to come with certain provision – said quotation could only be used for non-commercial purposes.
Here we have another issue – what is “non-commercial”? For if I have a link to somebody who in response links to me, is this “commerce”? If I have a banner on my blog, is that commerce? Finally, is quoting a part of a review – I am now speaking directly about “High Fidelity”– on a distributor’s web page allowable?

That is definitely a direct example of using somebody’s work commercially. And these are only first few examples that come to mind. There are many more complicated ones. That is why I am for a loosening of intellectual property rules. First of all, by broadening the allowable use regulations and by shortening the period of legal protection. It cannot last 50 years or more! Probably it would be most sensible to re-think the way the recording, film and computer game industries work. The more related groups of people try to protect their property, the harder the opposition against it. The bold move by Radiohead when they allowed to pay for their disc as much as the buyer wanted or to download it for free is not a good example, because – in short – the band is well known, wealthy, etc. But I feel that it was a step in the right direction, to emphasize live performances (I am talking about music), to be spontaneously rewarded by the parties taking part in this “game”.

Yes, I began from one side of the coin – in some way ACTA has to protect the creators from theft. But on the other hand it interferes too much with civil freedom. And regardless of what Zbigniew Hołdys says about that, and although I concur with him in many things, regardless of how much I would like to trust the very sympathetic minister Michał Boni, yet I know from history and experience that all such restrictions and regulations lead to limitation of my civil rights, sooner or later. The more regulations, the less rights; this much is clear.

That is why the protest against ACTA is understandable from this point of view. It cannot be that a private company stands “beside” the law and takes over its competences, which may (I underline: MAY) happen after the agreement is ratified by the parliament.

There is another aspect of the whole case, one that really fuels my rage: exclusion from discussion. Let the prime minister, other ministers, and everybody else make excuses that the text of ACTA was widely available and there were no consultations because nobody was interested – that is a clear example of government arrogance. What do they mean that nobody was interested? All it means is that no one from the government even tried to enter into a discussion, not seeing any problem with ACTA.
And in addition, the most bizarre explanation that we will sign first, and then discuss it before ratification! What will we discuss? After signing there will be no possibility to change this act! The dumbest explanation I heard was that we signed it now and need time before ratification to convince the Internet surfers to it. This is pure arrogance.

So what is my take on it? I think we need regulations regarding the Internet, especially in the area of intellectual property protection. And in this aspect ACTA could have a positive influence. The thing is that the understanding of “intellectual property” and the scope of its protection as presented in the document is absolutely archaic. And I say that most of all as an “author”, a person actively creating. Additionally, the document calls for oppressive control. And finally – the way it was presented to the public was absolutely outrageous.
That is why, despite the fact that I agree with Zbigniew Hołdys (well known Polish songwriter, musician) on the need to prosecute and punish piracy and theft, I am against ACTA, because it wrongly identifies the thief. I would like to see a document that represents the current state of affairs, not only the interests of big companies. I would like to see protection that is not limiting of my freedom. Limiting freedom always leads to violence. And that is what I would like to avoid at any cost.

And finally – nothing I am writing above is new, in the sense that I have already seen most of these opinions, I’ve read them somewhere. Perhaps not juxtaposed or laid out the same way, but still. Does this make me a thief?

Wojciech Pacuła
Editor in Chief

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