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The Church of the Internet

March 2012

You won’t generally find a more died in the wool proponent of the internet than I am, but I have been out-done by the Swedish in such a way that I can’t even begin to compete.  Believe it or not, the Swedish authorities have decided to recognise internet based file-sharing as a religion.  And not an April Fool in sight.

Of course, The Church of Kopimism is really a political pressure group, one whose aims are to make the unlimited copying of information between computer users legal and easy, in opposition to the owners of that information.  Their main opponents are the music and film industries, whose incomes have been very severely hit by the advent of the internet.  It’s so easy to copy and distribute a film or a piece of music nowadays that their value has fallen to close to zero.  Even if you are ABBA, Sweden’s main export.

To be fair, I think this story says more about the relaxed nature of Sweden’s approach to organised religion than any serious doctrinal development, but the fact is that the Church of Kopimism now has the same standing, in Sweden, as Christianity.  They’ve dressed themselves in the same linguistic clothes; for example, they say For the Church of Kopimism, information is holy and copying is a sacrament," and they apparently treat CTRL+C and CTRL+V (the keyboard shortcuts for copy and paste) as sacred symbols.

You can see what they’re up to; as well bringing a certain amount of ridicule to the issue (always a good ploy if you are fighting big vested interests), if copyright holders try to enforce their copyright, the followers of this odd church will probably claim religious persecution, and hope to get away with it that way.  Nice try.

That having been said, there might be some sort of momentum in this.  Religions are often leaders in the field of protest, and despots the world over hate the internet in much the same way that they hate organised religion; they fear the free exchange of information, and the way it allows groups to form and meet.

For example, the President of Belarus has recently passed a law making all online commercial activity illegal unless it is conducted through website registered in Belarus, and if you even look at any of a list of banned websites (mostly those of the political opposition), you are liable to a hefty fine.

China, too, famously has the “great firewall of China”, a giant filter through which all internet traffic within China has to pass, and which shuts out much they don’t like (including my website,  They know a threat to the State when they see one).

However, I think that the Church of Kopimism should immediately turn its evangelistic efforts to America, where they take religion seriously, and specifically to the absurd Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) which is making its way through the American legislature at the moment.

SOPA started with the fairly laudable aim of allowing the America police to prosecute what they call “rogue foreign sites” that sell counterfeit goods or prescription drugs. However, the law of unintended consequence rears its head yet again; the practical effect of SOPA will be that anyone who even suspects that their intellectual rights have been infringed will be able to have a website removed from the internet in America, with very little due legal process.

This will almost certainly means that any site that allows users to upload material or comments would cease to exist in America. For example, Twitter, Wikipedia, eBay, Flikr would almost certainly face closure, as would YouTube, which looks after the excellent videos of speakers at Oldie literary lunches (well worth a look, click here).  None of these sites could possibly monitor all the millions of entries uploaded daily by their users. 

Opponents claim that this gives the US authorities about as much power as the Chinese already have, and where America leads, others will soon follow.

It’s not over and there is much debate in America; I’ll try and put the latest news on this website. But you won’t see it if you’re in China.


Since writing this, matters in America have taken a slightly saner turn, and the White House has put the brakes on the progress of the SOPA legislation.  

They said that while they would not support legislation with provisions that could lead to Internet censorship, squelching of innovation, or reduced Internet security, they encouraged "all sides to work together to pass sound legislation this year that provides prosecutors and rights holders new legal tools to combat online piracy originating beyond U.S. borders while staying true to the principles outlined above in this response."

You can read the whole thing here, if you've a mind to.