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P2P Networks and Filesharing in Greece, before and after the crisis

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
1st July 2012


As with the war on terror or the war on drugs in the US, this piggybacking of IP enforcement on broader social crises is dangerous and counterproductive. In the case of Greece, it is a true suckers’ game: strengthening IP enforcement increases the outflow of royalty and licensing payments to foreign rights holders. The worsening economic situation, in turn, amplifies file sharing. There are tragic ironies here: the internal devaluation strategy championed by European leaders like Olli Rehn envisions reducing Greece to an economic level comparable to Bulgaria or Romania—the only two countries in the EU with higher piracy rates. The “free” media culture that has emerged in the past decade has some resemblance to the wider crisis of formal institutions in Greece, but it is not the same crisis and does not have the same solutions. Above all, it should not be used as an excuse to divert scarce resources to propping up declining media models. There is no money in it.

Excerpted from a longer report by Petros Petridis:

“My work—which involved interviews with file sharers as part of a dissertation in Social Anthropology—has focused on the strong non-economic undercurrent to participation in file sharing networks, ranging from the greater sense of agency and freedom they provided in an expanding cultural universe to their role as a perceived alternative to the ongoing Greek delegitimation of most social and political institutions. Freedom of expression, freedom to communicate, access to knowledge and information, excitement at the rediscovery and “rebirth” of old and rare works… All have figured as important motives for engagement with P2P networks. So too do perceptions of the lack of formal infrastructure and institutions for supporting cultural creativity; the successive shrinking of the welfare state; and the ongoing political crisis, shaped by scandals, nepotism and patronage relations. Within this context, P2P networks represent a form of self-organization and reconfiguration of social life outside established channels that has proved both valuable and—for some—inspirational in the context of the larger Greek crisis.

For some Greek youth, especially, the growth of P2P networks in Greece crystallized aspects of their broader social and political disaffection. Since 2008, P2P culture has merged with wider forms of political and sociocultural critique from all sides of the political spectrum. During the riots of December 2008, a popular Greek P2P tracker published a manifesto in which envisioned a full spectrum of social demands, from the development of alternative sources of energy; to free education, health care and public transportation; to the abolition of the anti-riot police units used to suppress protests; to the “copyleft of all spiritual and informative material.”

P2P networks have played a part in the growth of an alternative public sphere because they are—in an important sense—not new. Rather, they are the current platforms for social and sharing networks that date back at least a decade. Greek file sharing chat rooms (on Soul Seek) and hubs (mainly via the DC++ client) emerged in the early 2000s. The “big bang” of Greek P2P use took place in the middle of the decade with the establishment of the first Greek BitTorrent trackers—just in time for the larger meltdown of trust in state institutions.

Several groups and individuals played central roles in cultivating the connections between P2P use and wider forms of political protest. In 2006, the Underground Free University of Athens (ufu.gr) offered a class called “Viruses, P2P Networks and Digital Disobedience”. Open access and an accompanying critique of the copyright system began to circulate widely in this period—fueled in part by Greek government decisions to limit access to the new digital archive of the public television channel, ERT (www.ert-archives.gr). The ERT archive allowed streaming but not downloading (without a separate license)—thereby cutting the archive off from the emerging grassroots audio-visual culture built on transformative use. For many critics, the model amounted to asking Greek citizens to pay a second time for use of public material. It was also a signal that Greece would be a conservative player in digital media policy, continuing to privilege broadcast models and state gatekeepers. Greek P2P networks grew, in part, through opposition to this statist approach to Greek audio-visual culture.
Local Networks

Although Greeks participate widely in international P2P networks, there are many Greek P2P communities organized around Greek language trackers. While many young Greeks are comfortable with dominant English-language P2P networks, Greek language P2P sites lowered this barrier further and proved very popular. They also attracted members of the Greek diaspora looking for means to connect to Greek communities and, especially, to Greek-language media, which usually lacks international distribution. The majority of these sites operate as private trackers, requiring registration and (at least in principle) the maintenance of upload to download ratios that ensure broad-based participation in the network. Several of these sites operate through donations and in some cases (e.g. the now-defunct Gamato.info) sale of merchandise like t-shirts. The scope of these practices is a sensitive issue in the Greek (and wider international) P2P community. Some trackers maintain a strict non-commercial ethos while others—especially those large enough to require substantial infrastructure—adopt a variety of policies and strategies to maintain operations, from donations to advertising. As elsewhere, the latter strategies make networks more vulnerable to enforcement.
Moral Rights

Like other European implementations of the Berne Convention on Copyright, Greek copyright law (2121/93) recognizes two sets of intellectual rights: rights of economic exploitation and moral rights, the latter of which privilege the connection between the author and the work. In my interviews, file sharers routinely discounted the value of economic rights for digital works. They rejected the equivalence of copying and theft and the argument that copying displaces sales. And they asserted the general injustice of high media prices.

Moral rights, in contrast, were highly valued by file sharers and are widely protected within file sharing networks. In private trackers, it is taken for granted that an uploaded archive must be accompanied by detailed metadata, including authors’ names, the production company, the release date, links to trailers via YouTube, Vimeo or other similar platforms, snapshots, and so on. In many cases, these descriptions are more thorough than other sources of information on the Web, such as the IMDB for film.

These moral rights extend to the acts of preparation and circulation of copied materials. Uploaders are regarded as authors of the digitized versions, with authorship derived from the cost, skill, and risk associated with making high-quality new materials available. Competition between groups results in rapid improvements in audio and video quality and—especially—subtitling.”

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