The Pirates of Poland printer friendly
Poles are running scared of the software police, but how to stop piracy in a country where even two-euro software is copied?
by Wojciech Kosc
KATOWICE, Poland--Students are notorious for their unexpected, sometimes downright bizarre behavior. But ordering taxis in the dead of night, hastily loading their trunks with computers, and driving off in unknown directions smacks of something more prosaic: theft.
But these students from the university town were not stealing the computers. They were simply driving away in a hurry with their own property, fearing that the police were about to scour dormitories for pirated software.
Similar rumors of pending police raids have been circulating among computer owners since the start of the year. “The police are searching houses to find pirated software,” ran one alarmist email. “Yesterday they were seen in the neighborhood. They don’t wear uniforms and pass themselves off as pollsters. If they ask you about a computer or Internet access, just say no. Otherwise you’ll have them inside in next to no time.”
Online Chinese whispers now claim that the invasion of people’s privacy has assumed apocalyptic dimensions in the regions of Gorzow Wielkopolski and Katowice. Damnation of police practices is nearly universal. “They’re coming? I’m grinding an ax for them,” wrote one user on the forum of the Q&A website under an article entitled "Could We Really Lose Our Beloved Computers?"
But the police have never taken any action aimed directly at individual software users, says Zbigniew Kolecki, press officer at Gorzow Wielkopolski police headquarters. When individuals have been snared, it has been the result of the police’s broader-sweeping efforts to crack down on piracy. “We knew of an Internet café in Zielona Gora that actually turned itself into a small software production plant. That led us to individuals,” he says.
“The police have to act anytime there’s a solid suspicion of a crime. We never targeted individuals as such,” he continues. “These [scares] are examples of irrational frenzy. I know of people who sat whole evenings with the lights switched off, expecting the police to raid their flat.”
“Paranoid situations like that are regularly repeated,” one former dealer in illegal software told TOL on condition of anonymity. “There’s gossip that the police are raiding houses or developing some new way of tracking us down. Then there’s frenzied discussion via emails or on the phone about what to do. And then the whole thing dies out--until the next time,” he says.
Such panics are perhaps the wages of a bad conscience. And, suggests Kolecki, they should not have a clear conscience. “Copyright law is clear on this: you can’t have pirated software,” he says.
Maybe not, but piracy is deeply engrained among Polish consumers. It is less so among companies. According to the polling agency CBOS, 40 percent of entrepreneurs say they check the legality of the software on their companies’ computers.
Not an impressive number, perhaps, but still worthy compared with estimates about piracy by individuals. Piotr Kubiszewski, the editor-in-chief of a computer monthly, estimates that up to 90 percent of computer owners have illegal software at home.
Kubiszewski’s magazine, Chip, is trying to tap into users’ fearful consciences. Chip’s March issue features a CD-Rom containing free open-source equivalents of popular copyrighted applications.
Kubiszewski argues that the problem with piracy cannot be reduced to an either-or equation: either you have legal software or you break the law. He believes that most Poles see the equation as more complex.
“There’s this mentality in Poland--if you can have something for free, then go for it,” he admits. “I know of software sold for two euros--people still wanted to crack it.”
However, Kubiszewski adds that software companies in Poland fuel the mentality. Hardly any of them ever adopt a policy of issuing low-cost versions of their products. “This is partly because they know the extent to which piracy has penetrated in Poland. On the other hand, though, how can they expect people to go legal with pricing policies the way they are?” asked Kubiszewski.
Kubiszewski acknowledges that piracy is theft, and in an editorial in the February issue of Chip he clearly states that piracy is wrong. Users of pirated software were not convinced by his explanations. Or rather, they acknowledge it but only selectively.
One of several angry letters he received expressed a forthright, albeit self-serving rationalization. “It’s only the authorities and the police that are to blame for the present situation with piracy. By tolerating piracy they made people approve of it. … People break the law but they are not aware of it. Besides, is it still breaking the law when everybody does it? If you want to have a clean market, target those who make big money out of it. … Maybe we don’t allow others to profit on us, but at least we don’t profit at someone else’s expense, either.”
The angry reader did not mention another prevailing attitude: with piracy so widespread, Polish users would rather go for illegal top versions of, say, Microsoft Office, rather than a cheaper, limited-functionality, legal version, like Microsoft Works. “Works? Hardly anyone is aware it exists,” says Kubiszewski.
Policeman Kolecki says the police will continue to crack down on software piracy; it is a routine part of their job. Kubiszewski claims he has even heard of an increase in police campaigns. Business Software Alliance, an organization that combats software privacy in business, has run an awareness campaign on it. Its slogan was “Protect your business. Check that you haven't installed trouble!”
But it seems that the campaign that has so far most successfully alerted individuals to the troublesome content of their hard drives was a fiction, a virtual reality. Wojciech Kosc is a TOL correspondent. Link