5 January 2012 Last updated at 13:49 GMT
File-sharing is a religious ceremony according to the church leader
A “church” whose central tenet is the right to file-share has been formally recognised by the Swedish government.
The Church of Kopimism claims that “kopyacting” – sharing information through copying – is akin to a religious service.
The “spiritual leader” of the church said recognition was a “large step”.
But others were less enthusiastic and said the church would do little to halt the global crackdown on piracy.
It doesn’t mean illegal file-sharing will become legal, any more than if ‘Jedi’ was recognised as a religion everyone would be walking around with light sabres” – Mark Mulligan, Music analyst
The Swedish government agency Kammarkollegiet finally registered the Church of Kopimism as a religious organisation shortly before Christmas, the group said.
“We had to apply three times,” said Gustav Nipe, chairman of the organisation.
The church, which holds CTRL+C and CTRL+V (shortcuts for copy and paste) as sacred symbols, does not directly promote illegal file sharing, focusing instead on the open distribution of knowledge to all.
It was founded by 19-year-old philosophy student and leader Isak Gerson. He hopes that file-sharing will now be given religious protection.
“For the Church of Kopimism, information is holy and copying is a sacrament. Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore copying is central for the organisation and its members,” he said in a statement.
“Being recognised by the state of Sweden is a large step for all of Kopimi. Hopefully this is one step towards the day when we can live out our faith without fear of persecution,” he added.
The church’s website has been unavailable since it broke the news of its religious status. A message urged those interested in joining to “come back in a couple of days when the storm has settled”.
Despite the new-found interest in the organisation, experts said religious status for file-sharing would have little effect on the global crackdown on piracy.
“It is quite divorced from reality and is reflective of Swedish social norms rather than the Swedish legislative system,” said music analyst Mark Mulligan.
“It doesn’t mean that illegal file-sharing will become legal, any more than if ‘Jedi’ was recognised as a religion everyone would be walking around with light sabres.
“In some ways these guys are looking outdated. File-sharing as a means to pirate content is becoming yesterday’s technology,” he added.
The establishment of the church comes amid a backdrop of governmental zero-tolerance towards piracy.
The crackdown on piracy has moved focus away from individual pirates and more towards the ecosystem that supports piracy.
In the US, the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) aims to stop online ad networks and payment processors from doing business with foreign websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.
It could also stop search engines from linking to the allegedly infringing sites. Domain name registrars could be forced to take down the websites, and internet service providers forced to block access to the sites accused of infringing.
The government is pushing ahead with the controversial legislation despite continued opposition.
* * *
Kopimism: the world’s newest religion explained (New Scientist)
14:35 06 January 2012 by Alison George
Tell me about this new file-sharing religion, Kopimism.
We were founded about 15 months ago and we believe that information is holy and that the act of copying is holy.
Why make a religion out of file-sharing? Why not just be an ordinary club without defining yourselves as being a religious community?
Because we see ourselves as a religious group, a church seems like a good way of organising ourselves.
Was it hard to become an official religion?
We have had this faith for several years and one day we thought, why not try and get it registered? It was quite difficult. The authorities were quite dogmatic with their formalities. It took us three tries and more than a year to get recognised.
What criteria do you have to meet to become an official religion?
The law states that to be a religion you have to be an organisation that practises moments of prayer or meditation in your rituals.
What are the Kopimist prayers and meditations?
We have a part of our religious practices where we worship the value of information by copying it.
You call this “kopyacting”. Do you actually meet up in a building, like a church, to undertake these rituals?
We do meet up, but it doesn’t have to be a physical room. It could be a server or a web page too.
I understand that certain symbols have special significance in Kopimism.
Yes. There is the “kopimi” logo, which is a K written inside a pyramid a symbol used online to show you want to be copied. But there are also symbols that represent and encourage copying, for example, “CTRL+V” and “CTRL+C”.
Why is information, and sharing it, so important to you?
Information is the building block of everything around me and everything I believe in. Copying it is a way of multiplying the value of information.
What’s your stance on illegal file-sharing?
I think that the copyright laws are very problematic, and at least need to be rewritten, but I would suggest getting rid of most of them.
So all file-sharing should be legal?
Are you just trying to make a point, or is this religion for real?
We’ve had this faith for several years.
What has the reaction been from established churches?
I haven’t spoken to many of them, but those I have spoken to have been curious, and seen it as an interesting discussion.
Can you get excommunicated from the Church of Kopimism?
We have never thought about it. But if you don’t believe in our values then I guess there is no point in being a member, and if you do believe in our values you can’t really be excommunicated.
How many church members are there?
How do you become a Kopimist?
Our site is down for moment, because there has been too much traffic, but when it is up, you just have to read about our values and agree with them, then you can register on the web page.
Is there a deity associated with Kopimism?
No, there isn’t.
Is Julian Assange a high priest of Kopimism?
No. We have had no communication with him.
Does Kopimism have anything to say about the afterlife?
Not really. As a religion we are not so focussed on humans.
It could be a digital afterlife.
Information doesn’t really have a life, but I guess it can be forgotten, but as long as it is copied it won’t be.
* * *
Kopimism, Sweden’s Pirate Religion, Begins to Plunder America (U.S.News)
‘Kopimism’ gives internet piracy a place to worship
April 20, 2012
A Swedish religion whose dogma centers on the belief that people should be free to copy and distribute all information—regardless of any copyright or trademarks—has made its way to the United States.
Followers of so-called “Kopimism” believe copying, sharing, and improving on knowledge, music, and other types of information is only human—the Romans remixed Greek mythology, after all, they say. In January, Kopimism—a play on the words “copy me”—was formally recognized by a Swedish government agency, raising its profile worldwide.
“Culture is something that makes people feel much better and makes people appreciate their world in a different way. Knowledge is also something we should copy regardless of the law,” says Isak Gerson, the 20-year-old founder of Kopimism. “It makes us better when we share knowledge and culture with each other.”
More than 3,500 people “like” Kopimism on Facebook, and thousands more practice its sacred ritual of file sharing. According to its manifesto, private, closed-source software code and anti-piracy software are “comparable to slavery.” Kopimist “Ops,” or spiritual leaders, are encouraged to give counsel to people who want to pirate files, are banned from recording and should encrypt all virtual religious service meetings “because of society’s vicious legislative and litigious persecution of Kopimists.”
Official in-person meetings must happen in places free of anti-Kopimist monitoring and in spaces with the Kopimist symbol—a pyramid with the letter K inside. To be initiated new parishioners must share the Kopimist symbol and say the sacred words “copied and seeded.”
The gospel of the church has begun to spread, with Kopimist branches in 18 countries.
An American branch of the religion was recently registered with Illinois and is in the process of gaining federal recognition, according to Christopher Carmean, a 25-year-old student at the University of Chicago and head of the U.S. branch.
“Data is what we are made of, data is what defines our life, and data is how we express ourselves,” says Carmean. “Forms of copying, remixing, and sharing enhance the quality of life for all who have access to them. Attempts to hinder sharing are antithetical to our data-driven existence.”
About 450 people have registered with his church, and about 30 of them are actively practicing the religion, whose symbols include Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V—the keyboard shortcuts for copy and paste.
It’s no surprise the religion was born in Sweden—it has some of the laxest copyright laws in the world. The Swedish Pirate Party has two seats in the European Parliament, and The Pirate Bay, a Swedish website that’s one of the world’s largest portals to illegal files, has avoided being shut down for years.
Gerson is happy to allow people who want to open their own branches of Kopimism to copy its symbols and religious documents.
“There’s been a couple people that asked me [to start congregations], but I tell them they shouldn’t ask. You don’t need permission,” he says. “It’s a project, and I want projects to be copied, so I’m happy when people copy without asking.”
Most Kopimists say they realized they were practicing the religion before they found it.
“There are many people who are like me, who always held the Kopimist ideals, but hadn’t yet heard of the official church,” says Lauren Pespisa, a web developer in Cambridge, Mass., who gave a speech about the religion in March to a group of anti-copyright activists called the Massachusetts Pirate Party. “I think some people are like me and have embraced it officially and publicly, but some people believe in it and don’t really want to mix religion and politics.”
That’s a big criticism of the religion—lawsuits brought upon Kopimists is a form of religious persecution, according to Gerson. But Pespisa says that crying persecution in court probably “wouldn’t hold up in reality.”
In a blog post in late March, Carmean wrote that people should not “bring a legal argument to a religion fight.”
“Expecting any religion to provide a logic-based mandate for every single action that one might take is absurd and offensive,” he wrote. “It insults the basic moral fiber of Kopimists and all of humanity to outright demand a total moral code of conduct from anyone purporting to have a new perspective on issues of our time.”
Although many Kopimists are practicing a “sacred” ritual whenever they download or share a movie, CD, or book, they also regularly meet in online chat rooms to discuss the religion. Many of them are also internet activists, working to make file sharing legal, regardless of copyright. Even if they’re unsuccessful, Gerson is happy to help the information flow in any way he can.
“I think we need to change the laws, but I don’t think we need to focus only on them. I think laws can, in many cases, be ignored,” he says. “We want to encourage people to share regardless of what the laws say.”