Monday, February 23, 2004

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.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Man on Trial for Pedophilia Diagnosed with AIDS

According to the mass circulation Gazeta Wyborcza daily, the former director of a boys' choir in the mid-western city of Poznan, who faces charges of pedophilia, is diagnosed with HIV to the horror of his victims. The trial of man, whose identity is withheld by the court, was suspended last month when he was rushed to hospital with a suspected brain tumour. To the dismay of medical staff, he was found to be an HIV carrier. The man is known to have molested at least three choir boys. He is suspected to have been part of a pedophile ring in Poznan. In an interview for Radio Polonia, Danuta Cholewa of the Society of Children's Friends says that the newspaper may have broken the law by revealing that the man now on trial for child molestation, is an AIDS victim. She says that such information is confidential and should not be made public.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Incidents of police ill-treatment were reported. Domestic violence was not effectively investigated or prosecuted and victims were inadequately protected from further violence and other forms of pressure by the perpetrators.

Police ill-treatment

In March the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights published the report on his November 2002 visit to Poland. Noting the genuine willingness of the authorities to combat many of the problems raised in his report, the Commissioner expressed concern that cases of ill-treatment and deaths in police custody had been reported. He stated that it appeared that prostitutes, Roma and victims of trafficking were the most frequent victims. It appeared that many incidents of police violence went unreported as victims were said to fear that they would themselves be prosecuted. The Commissioner was also concerned that incidents of police violence were not always impartially investigated and rarely reached the courts. He called on the authorities to intensify efforts to eradicate cases of police brutality through training, effective investigation and prosecution of such cases.

Domestic violence

Although there were no comprehensive statistics concerning domestic violence, the problem was believed to be serious, widespread and affecting women from all backgrounds. According to Centrum Praw Kobiet (Women’s Rights Centre), a non-governmental organization that offers women a wide range of assistance programs, one in eight women polled in 2002 stated that they had been beaten by their partner. A poll in 1996 showed that the incidence was much higher among divorced women – 41 per cent had allegedly been beaten by their husbands. The enforcement of the Penal Code provisions regarding domestic violence and effective support for the victims was inadequate.

In August the government adopted the National Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women 2003-2005 and pledged to introduce legislation ensuring effective protection of women and children who are subjected to violence.

Domestic violence, defined as a criminal offence in Polish law only if it occurs repeatedly, is prosecuted even without the permission of the victim. However, the complaints are frequently not treated as sufficiently serious or credible. In the vast majority of cases the police do not effectively collect the evidence and the women are required to obtain and pay for forensic medical certificates for injuries that they may have suffered. A single act of violence is privately prosecuted, which for most women is difficult and expensive. Statistical data on police investigations and prosecutions is not well collected. Even if brought to justice, perpetrators are usually lightly sentenced.

There were insufficient places where women could seek refuge or assistance. In a number of shelters managed by men, there were reports of sexual harassment and assault of the women by the staff.

Racism and discrimination

In March the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concern about reports of racially motivated harassment and discrimination against Jews, Roma and people of African and Asian origin that had not been properly investigated by law enforcement agencies. The Committee urged Poland to intensify its efforts to combat and punish all such cases, especially through the strict application of relevant legislation and regulations providing for sanctions. It further recommended that law enforcement bodies be given adequate training and instructions on how to address complaints of racially motivated crimes, and that similar training be provided to the judiciary.

Similar concerns were raised by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights. Both the Commissioner and the CERD expressed concern about discrimination against Roma in other areas, especially education and employment. The Commissioner considered that the practice of so-called “Roma classes” tended to further isolate Romani children and that education in these classes was reportedly often of lower quality. Both recommended that Romani children should be integrated into mainstream schools as far as possible, and that the authorities should urgently address the problems of the Roma population throughout the country. They urged that sufficient resources be allocated to achieve full participation of Roma and equal levels of development in areas such as education, employment, health, hygiene and accommodation.