After last week’s SOPA and PIPA Internet site blackouts, lawmakers have postponed votes on the bills that could change the way information is shared through the Internet.
Yet there’s still debate about how to crack down on online piracy without unfairly infringing on First Amendment rights.
I wonder how the conversation might change if U.S. had a significant number of Kopimists, a religious group that claims file sharing as a religion.
Kopimism, considered the world’s newest religion, was founded by Isak Gerson, a 20-year-old philosophy student in Sweden. Kopimists believe knowledge should be available to all and that the search for knowledge is sacred. They practice the sacrament of “kopyacting,” which is the act of copying and circulating knowledge through file sharing. They hold CTRL+C and CTRL+V (the copy and paste shortcut keys) as sacred symbols.
“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,” Gerson said in an interview with New Scientist.
Just a few weeks ago, after two years of struggles, Gerson finally got the Swedish government to recognize Kopimism as a religion under the country’s laws. I couldn’t find any information about the number of adherents, but the English-language parts of their website suggest their reach is global.
Kopimism has brought up an important debate about the First Amendment rights of free speech and religion. Can file sharing really be considered a religion? It can in Sweden, but what about in the U.S., where SOPA and PIPA have underscored lawmakers’ concerns over internet piracy and its possible impact on intellectual property rights, public safety and U.S. commerce?
Kopimists don’t directly promote illegal downloading. Yet some could, in theory, break some of the U.S.’s anti-piracy laws, which can carry steep punishments (as those super-annoying warnings at the beginning of every DVD remind us). But Kopimists could argue that laws restricting their file-sharing are also restricting their right to practice their religion.
It’s a scenario that is admittedly hypothetical right now — I haven’t heard of many U.S. citizens who are serious Kopimists. Regardless, things like SOPA, PIPA and the newly-introduced OPEN Act point to the fact that regulations can always come with a tangled web of unintended consequences.
Some critics, however, don’t see Kopimism as a global force that will do much to influence anti-piracy laws.
“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 lightsabers,” said music analyst Mark Mulligan in an interview with BBC.
Megan Quinn writes about pop culture and religion at bubblegumandbibles.wordpress.com.