Presented at International Communication Association annual Conference, May 22, 2014:
In April, 2012, in a ceremony officiated by an “ops” wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and wielding a talking laptop, the first Kopimist wedding was performed. It marked a significant milestone for this rapidly growing religion, founded in 2010 by a Swedish philosophy student named Isak Gerson and officially recognized by Sweden less than two years later. The religion is based on the principals that copying, disseminating and reconfiguring information are not only ethically right, but are in themselves “sacred” acts of devotion. Kopimist philosophy also holds that “the internet is holy” and that “code is law” (a phrase copied from legal scholar Lawrence Lessig).
Kopimism has already raised some interesting questions and debates in both legal and religious circles. Some have grumbled that the Kopimists are simply a bunch of “pirates” cleverly using religious protection to shield them from liability for copyright infringement. Others have suggested that the religion is little more than a sophomoric rhetorical exercise, the predictable product of a precocious young philosopher. In this article, I consider these viewpoints and suggest that, if we take Kopimist doctrine at its word, we can better understand it as the crystallization of an emerging value system centered around the proliferation of digital, networked information. Like copyright, and monastic Christianity before, it, Kopimism stakes out a socioepistemological vantage point, seeking to reconcile the regulatory demands of the 20th Century’s copyright regime with the cultural ramifications of today’s global digital information infrastructure.
Based on interviews with Kopimist officials and worshippers, as well as a critical reading of the religion’s “constitution” and other doctrinal texts, I delineate the complex ethical boundaries surrounding this new belief system, and examine it in contrast to previous religious and legal systems, evaluating its points of continuity and rupture to illuminate the unique challenges to ethics and morality in an era of information abundance and continuing material and educational inequity.